AFAD STATEMENT ON THE 35TH COMMEMORATION OF THE
GWANGJU 1980 MAY DEMOCRATIC UPRISING:
A Salute to the Heroism of the South Korean People
The authority of the Government emanates from the People. The world must be made safe and democracy is an important form of government that would make this possible. Its peace must be founded upon the three pillars of human dignity, justice and liberty. To make democracy work, we must be active participants to making it possible and not be mere spectators of the repression and impunity unfolding before us.
Today, 35 years ago on May 18th, a pivotal event unfolded in South Korea that has become an inspiration for democratic movements in Asia and the rest of the world. Hundreds died and many disappeared in that struggle for democracy long deprived to the people of South Korea after several years of dictatorship.
The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) joins the People of South Korea and the rest of the world during the 35th anniversary of commemorating the extraordinary patriotism of all those who sacrificed their lives and those who participated in the struggle for the restoration of liberty in the May 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters courageously broke the shackles of dictatorship by sacrificing their lives and emerged victorious raising the torch of the flame of freedom. Those who lost their lives and all involved in that historic and heroic moment will always win the respect and commendation of humankind for daring to confront the bloodshed of battle for their country’s liberty.
The growing wave of protests which started in the southwestern city of Gwangju in May 18-27, 1980 was met with brutality by the military dictatorship. Hundreds of civilians were randomly and brutally assaulted, massacred, disappeared, beaten and tortured by the military’s special forces regardless of whether or not they possessed sticks used to fight against them. An estimated 76 protesters were believed disappeared in the repression, but there could be many more. This horrible incident became the pivotal crucible of a grassroots
campaign that eventually overturned a despotic regime and the assertion and restoration of civilian supremacy.
This historic event in South Korea transformed Gwangju into a potent symbol of people power that inspired similar subsequent movements around Asia and other parts of the world. The crackdown mobilized ordinary citizens, young and old, women and men, and joined the students in the protests, and ignited civil society - a collective recoiling from the violence perpetrated by the military dictatorship and eventually restored supremacy of civilian rule.
The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances locks arms with the community of nations in the united struggle for human rights and freedom, democracy, justice, and peace. AFAD strongly believes that peoples can work together to find a way for the future by sharing the struggle, sacrifices and sufferings of the past. The May 18th Gwangju Democratic Uprising is a great source of inspiration in the struggle for human rights.
35 years may have passed, but the survivors and witnesses of that gruesome massacre in South Korea’s history are far from unscathed, with many still suffering from mental health problems. Parents lost their sons and daughters, children lost their parents, the youth lost their friends. This suggests that physical and emotional trauma left an indelible mark on those who experienced first-hand the brutal event.
The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances urges the governments of Asia to put an end to undemocratic practices, human rights violations and impunity in order to prevent a repeat of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising. Governments should be reminded that impunity breeds dissent, and dissent when ripe can topple despotic rulers.
The bravery of all those who sacrificed for the restoration of freedom in South Korea will always be etched in the hearts and minds of all freedom-loving peoples in the whole world. More than a monument of granite, the flesh and blood of all those who perished will forever nurture the passion for liberty, justice, dignity and peace for all generations to come. Let us all be vigilant against all threats to our rights and freedoms. The South Korean national identity is rooted in the struggle for democracy against military authoritarianism.
Freedom is fragile if we take it for granted and allow external force to rob it from us. Its ideals must be nurtured and safeguarded for all to have the opportunity to freely speak, act and
pursue happiness. Freedom is important because it leads to enhanced expressions of creativity, enjoyment of basic human rights, and an overall better quality of life.
Moreover, the value of freedom can only be understood and appreciated by those who have a sense of the past and a highly developed understanding of human nature. Let us always be vigilant. When threats to our liberty are in sight, we should be compelled by the urgent need to respond to the challenges of the threats to democracy and dominant culture of impunity. The spirit of Gwangju serves an inspiration, which symbolizes peoples’ struggles and resistance against state violence and culture of impunity.
Finally, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) warmly congratulates this year’s Gwangju Prize Laureate for Human Rights 2015, Ms. LatifahAnumSiregar from Jayapura, Papua. AFAD equally congratulates Lao disappeared person, SombathSomphone for the special award to be bestowed upon him for his exemplary development work, an award which his wife, ShuiMeng Ng will also receive on 18 May 2015. These awards are sources of encouragement for human rights defenders to continue the cause that the Gwangju Heroes lived and died for – the cause for democracy, freedom, justice and peace.
Signed and authenticated by:
||MARY AILEEN D. BACALSO