In December 2018, I attended the 8th Jeju 4.3 Peace Forum held in Jeju Island, South Korea. The forum that was held on December 13-14, 2018 was simply not the continuity of the storytelling of repression that Jeju people suffered from the American Occupation (1945-1948), but it was more than strengthening the voices and commitment of civil societies and victims demanding for the justice and compensation.
The most important discussion of the forum was the responsibility of the United States for the mass massacre in Jeju Island. The massacre, that claimed over 30,000 lives, took place during the U.S. military’s government of the southern part of Korean Peninsula following the end of Japanese colonization. To put it simple, the massacre happened when people of Jeju, opposing the division of the country, protested against the formation of two governments. Nobody knew the truth and the number of casualties. Unfortunately, a proper investigation into the Incident was not conducted for over a half century. After decades of repression, the people of Jeju have come forward to tell the stories of the repression and mass killings.
An investigation into the incident was carried out by the South Korean government only after “the Special Law for Investigation of the Jeju 4.3 Incident and Honoring Victims” was promulgated in January 2000. The National Committee for the Investigation of the Truth about the Jeju April 3 Incident submitted its investigation report on March 29, 2003, after a six-month review and revision for objectivity and fairness. The report claimed that the United States intervened in the Suppression Operation, killing numerous residents.
Although the investigation report was published one and a half decade ago, the United States has not yet accepted its responsibility for the incident. South Korean and American researchers, journalists, human rights experts, and activists, which presented their research during the forum, laid emphasis on the need for holding the United States responsible for the mass atrocities in Jeju Island.
The forum was not just the call for the activists, researchers and journalists working for the Jeju 4.3 incident to engage into devising strategies how the US can be held responsible for the incident but they have also demanded a sincere apology from the US. A sincere apology from the US is a must for justice and reparation of the people from Jeju Island. The presenters were also of the view that many truths related to the Jeju incident are yet to be revealed, and those concerned should keep on working on it.
Notably, human rights expert Tae-Ung Baik, who is Professor of Law at the University of Hawai’i Manoa, US, suggested that the human rights norms and principles could be applied for making the US responsible for the Jeju 4.3 incident.
He is also a member of UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance. Likewise, experts also argued that they should form a working group on exerting pressure on the US government for extending a sincere apology.
To hold the United States responsible for the massacre in Jeju Island, everyone should take responsibility to work towards this. Thus, the forum was concluded with this hopeful note.