Human Rights Documentary Heritage 1980 Archives for the May 18th Democratic Uprising against Military Regime, in Gwangju, Republic of Korea

From 1961 Korea was under the control of a military dictatorship and from December 1979, under Chun Doo-hwan who became President in 1980. On 18th May 1980 the people of Gwangju rose up to protest against this dictatorship. The city was taken over by the protesters on 21st May. Soldiers then besieged the city until 27th May when they crushed the protests with great brutality: 165 people were killed, 76 went missing, presumed dead, 102 of the 3,383 people wounded later died of their injuries, and 1,476 were arrested. The crushing of these protests led the military government to lose much of its authority and in 1987 it finally fell, to be replaced with today's democratic Korea.
In 1989 the "Gwangju Riot" was officially renamed "the May 18th Democratic Uprising". In 1995 a special law pertaining to the punishment of the perpetrators was enacted by the Korean National Assembly. Around the same time, legal action was initiated against two former presidents and the senior staff responsible for the brutal suppression. Participants of the uprising who had been sentenced to severe punishment for rebellion were subsequently found not guilty. In 1990 victims of the May 18th Democratic Uprising began to receive compensation for their losses and in 1997 May 18th was designated as a national holiday.

The May 18th Democratic Uprising was the first such protest against dictatorship in East Asia. The documents relating to this protest have been inscribed on the International Memory of the World Register in 2011. They include official state records giving the military regime's view of it, the documents relating to the trial before a military court of Kim Dae-jung, letters, newspaper cuttings, newsletters produced during the protest by the protesters, photographs taken by journalists and others, eyewitness testimony taken after 1987, medical documents of victims, documents from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and documents relating to the granting of compensation to victims after 1987 (3,880 volumes). Finally documents from the United States, which supported the military regime, are included. These documents give a very clear picture of the whole process of this important and highly influential protest and its final conclusion.

International Register



This collection of documents is not currently housed in any one place but lies scattered in many hands. It is intended to bring all the documents into one newly built archive office in Gwangju, where they can receive the conservation needed and be housed in an optimum repository environment. ~ Gwangju City Hall; May 18 Memorial Foundation; May 18th Research Center of Chonnam National University