News Focus

The national government to launch the first investigation into Jeju 4·3 in 22 years


Yang Jeong-shim, Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation Research Department head

[The Jeju 4·3 Committee’s Subcommittee for Ensuing Investigation holds its second meeting on Jan. 6, 2022.]

The first national government-level investigation into Jeju 4.3 in 22 years is slated to commence this year. In 2000, the Committee on Discovering Truth on Jeju 4·3 Incident and Restoration of Honor of Victims (Jeju 4·3 Committee) investigated Jeju 4·3 and produced The Jeju 4·3 Incident Investigation Report in 2003. The Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation then conducted a follow-up investigation, resulting in the publication of a second investigation report. However, it could not be admitted as an official report of the Republic of Korea. As mandated by the National Assembly’s 2021 general revision of the Jeju 4·3 Special Act, another central government investigation has begun.

The Jeju 4·3 Incident Investigation Report produced by the central government in 2003 focused on the victimization of the Jeju people in armed conflicts and via suppression from 1947 to 1954 and detailed the overall facts of the incident, becoming the basis for further investigations into Jeju 4·3 to fully recover the honor of the victims. Also, suppressed memories of individual victims and their families were formally admitted after decades during which talk of their pain and experiences were silenced by social taboo.

While this first report produced a general outline of the massacre that focused on damages incurred, there is far more yet to be uncovered. Thus, the need for follow-up investigations. However, some have argued against further Jeju 4·3 investigations by the national government, stating there are lesser-known historical affairs that deserve attention and there has already been a fact-finding investigation into the massacres in Jeju, which produced a presidential apology.

However, further details of Jeju 4·3 were to be investigated by the Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation as mandated by revisions made to the Jeju 4·3 Special Act (and promulgated on Jan 24, 2007).

As mandated by the Special Act, the Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation formulated a nonpermanent investigation group in 2012 to calculate the damage each village in Jeju sustained during Jeju 4·3. Expert groups were invited to investigate the extent of the damages, including material damages sustained and casualties.

Before commencing work on the report, the Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation required reinforcements in expert human resources. After a full-scale organizational restructuring, the foundation established the Research Department in October 2018. The department reviewed the data collected for the follow-up investigation and supplemented details, and The Jeju 4·3 Incident Follow-up Investigation I was published in December 2019.

The report covers 26 mass killings of more than 50 victims, exhumations of 4,255 people who were reported missing, damages caused by the preliminary inspection, fatal human damage done to 700 education-related staff members, and 1,091 people killed by the military, police, and right-wing organizations as well as the number of casualties from each village. The Jeju 4·3 Incident Follow-up Investigation Report published by the foundation aimed to provide an overall discussion regarding Jeju 4·3 by covering in detail the damage done to each village. The village-based damage report includes information on the assailants as well as the time, place, and the type of damage incurred, such as whether it was human losses or material to specify the background of different events and the relationship between them. Data that had once been scattered were brought together. Field investigations were conducted to categorize the damage, providing the basis for establishing a comprehensive plan for further research.

According to the general revision of the Jeju 4·3 Special Act of March 23, 2021, the follow-up investigation became the task of the national government. Also, another follow-up investigation report was to be published by the Republic of Korea.

However, since the national government conducted the first investigation of Jeju 4·3, the writing of the follow-up investigation report was to be carried out by the Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation. The foundation assumes the working-level procedures in writing the report, while the Jeju 4·3 Committee’s Subcommittee for Follow-up Investigation assumes the preliminary review. The report is then to be reviewed and approved via resolution by the Jeju 4·3 Committee. Whereas the foundation is to carry out the actual writing, the report needs to be reviewed and decided upon by the government’s Jeju 4·3 Committee to be published as The Jeju 4·3 Incident Follow-up Investigation Report.

What has been modified and passed in the 2nd Subcommittee meeting of the Jeju 4·3 Committee on Jan. 6, 2022, are as follows:

  1. Scope of Investigation
  • Period: March 1, 1947 – Sept. 21, 1954
  • Content: Additional investigation on details regarding the damage caused by Jeju 4·3.

– Damage by region, missing people, the role of the United States, damage to Jeju residents in Japan, damage caused by the guilt-by-association system, and activities of the military, police, and armed forces.

  1. Period of Investigation

For three years, from the beginning of 2022 to the end of 2024

  1. Direction of Investigation

– The aim is to cover “assignments that were deemed insufficient in the first investigation report of 2003” that was dealt with in The Jeju 4·3 Incident Follow-up Investigation Report I (2019) as published by the Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation. Sectors that require further investigation or follow-up work are set as targets.

  1. Procedure

– The purpose is to derive a publicly credible report that abides by the Jeju 4·3 Committee’s procedure for reviewing, deciding, and confirming its content.

The follow-up investigation intends to cover topics that were pinpointed as insufficient, as written in the article, Reconciliation and Coexistence, a 2008 Jeju 4·3 Committee’s white paper on Jeju 4·3 as “the historical evaluation, missing people, damage done to each village, and the investigation on the command system of suppressive operations.”

There are six topics to focus on:

1) Damage done in each region

Details will be further investigated as they were insufficient in the 2003 report. In preparation for the Jeju 4·3 Committee’s review, the data collected from 2012 to 2016 will be reinforced.

2) Missing people

The final traces of those who went missing will be comprehended in liaison with relevant agencies in and out of Jeju to help with follow-up measures, including exhumation and commemoration of the victims.

3) The role of the United States

The role of the United States Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) in Jeju 4·3’s background, the unfolding, and the killing of civilians will be investigated as the event took place while the USAMGIK was in control of South Korea.

4) Activities of the military, police, and armed forces

Investigation on the military, police and armed forces will be expanded as their responsibilities for killing civilians are grave. The topic is also essential in preventing the recurrence of human rights violations.

5) Damage done to Jeju residents in Japan

The people of Jeju who moved to Japan following the outbreak of Jeju 4·3 will be contacted to investigate the damages they suffered.

6) Guilty by association

The guilt-by-association system is not only relevant in Jeju 4·3 but also in other human rights violations regarding other historical tragedies, as it has been the cause of recurring tragedies long after the initial events. The investigation of the topic will go through case studies and official investigations regarding the scale.

[The Jeju 4·3 Incident Follow-up Investigation Report I published in 2019]

Jeju 4·3 is now past the stage of national commemoration and is moving toward the second stage of national compensation. The revision of the Jeju 4·3 Special Act is based on the state’s responsibilities, including the compensation for victims and the re-examination of trials to recover victims’ damage and honor. Also, the follow-up investigation emphasizes the continuity of fact-finding work. The enactment of the Jeju 4·3 Special Act in 2000 and the passing of the general revision in 2021 will become a world model for resolving past historical events centered around fact-finding and the recovery of honor for victims.