Abstract: This article exposes human rights violations committed at Brothers Home in Busan, South Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, identifying their structural causes and discussing Korean society’s efforts to address them. From 1975 to 1987, Brothers Home was the largest group residential facility for the homeless, the ill, the disabled, and the poor—a program that was even commended by the Korean government. However, over the years, various human rights abuses led to the death of 657 residents. While these violations remained hidden from public view for almost 25 years, survivors and supporters waged a long battle to bring them to light. Recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigated and confirmed the human rights violations as state violence . In this essay, the authors assess the significance this case holds for Korean society.
Keywords: Brothers Home; Human Rights Violations; Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the Republic of Korea; State Violence; Homelessness
On 23 August 2022, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of the Republic of Korea— a government agency created in 2005 to probe human rights violations by the state before Korea’s democratization—concluded that human rights violations had been committed between 1975 to 1987 at Brothers Home, a group residential center for homeless people in Busan. These abuses included confinement, isolation, forced unpaid labor, and various forms of violence. This conclusion by the TRC meant that the state’s culpability was officially acknowledged. The following day, Jung Keun-sik, chairman of the TRC, formally announced this decision, and the news was widely covered by major domestic and international media outlets, which also published follow-up articles on the story.1
Details of the horrific incidents that had taken place years earlier at Brothers Home shocked South Korean society. This outcry represented the culmination of a long campaign led by survivors’ organisations and supported by civic groups that called for a public inquiry. Of equally critical importance was the launch of the second Truth and Reconciliation Commission on 10 December 2020, a development that was made possible by a consensus across society and among politicians that human rights violations at facilities such as Brothers Home should be properly addressed.2 Immediately after taking office, Chairman Jung Keun-sik also specified that establishing the truth about state violence committed at these facilities was a priority for the Commission.3