South Korea is getting ready to host the Winter Olympics in 2018. But a new investigation by the Associated Press has revealed that the last time the country hosted the Olympics, in 1988, it locked up thousands of so-called vagrants and was complicit in their murder and rape.
The new report from the Associated Press is based on hundreds of secret documents and dozens of interviews with former prisoners and guards. The systematic cover-up of these human rights violations has continued over the past 30 years, and the current government refuses to investigate the case.
The South Korean government, under former dictator Park Chung-hee, initiated a programme to clear the streets of vagrants as early as 1975, by setting up 36 facilities where the homeless, disabled, and political dissidents would be imprisoned. The former dictator is the father of current South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
By the mid-1980s, in the lead up to the 1988 Olympics, the programme intensified. By 1986, there were over 16,000 “vagrants” in these slave labour prisons where people were regularly abused and sometimes murdered. Some former employees of the prisons have gone so far as to call them concentration camps, while still defending the work they did.
The people of these prisons were put to work making products that would find their way to countries in Europe, as well as Japan. One of the most notorious facilities, Brothers Home, was incentivised by the government to arrest more vagrants based on the generous subsidies provided. Those subsidies grew based on the number of prisoners the facilities held. But the government continues to refuse to investigate the claims.
“The government has consistently tried to bury what happened. How do you fight that? If we spoke up, who would have heard us?”, one former inmate who was raped and endured five years of slave labor told the Associated Press. “I am wailing, desperate to tell our story. Please listen to us.”
You can and should read the entire Associated Press report.