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They pressed a cigarette lighter between his legs

They were simply stopped on the street, loaded into trucks on flimsy grounds, and taken to one of 36 facilities that existed in various locations in South Korea.

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They pressed a cigarette lighter between his legs

They were simply stopped on the street, loaded into trucks on flimsy grounds, and taken to one of 36 facilities that existed in various locations in South Korea. Years of ordeal followed. One of the numerous victims was Choi Seung-woo. He was 14 years old when he was arrested in 1982. A police officer tore off his pants and pressed a cigarette lighter between his legs until he confessed to a crime he did not commit. Then he was taken to a home near Busan.

The place now stands for the worst crimes in the country's recent history. South Korea has taken a long time to come to terms with this dark chapter. Survivors, many of whom are struggling financially and with poor health, struggled for years to seek redress before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began work in May 2021. Now they have published their first results in Seoul.

The so-called Brothers' Home in Busan, a former orphanage, is at the center of their investigations. So far, 191 cases have been analyzed in detail there. They are among the 544 survivors of the facility who have come forward so far, commission chairman Jung Geun-sik said. They reflect the serious violations of human rights, ranging from heavy forced labor and physical violence to killings. So far, the commission has confirmed 657 deaths in Busan. That is significantly more than the previously known 513 victims documented in the records of the Brothers' Home.

With around 4,000 inmates, it was the largest facility in South Korea in which so-called "loafers" were locked away. These were people who were considered homeless, alcoholics, petty criminals, or dissidents by the authorities of the various military regimes that ruled South Korea until the late 1980s. Among them were many children.

What they experienced reveals the fate of Choi Seung-woo. Already on the first night he was raped by a security guard. Altogether he had to do five years of forced labor in the home or in nearby factories. He had to endure assaults almost every day. Choi saw other prisoners being beaten to death and their bodies carted away.

The workers' wages were withheld by the brothers' home operator and his family, reports Jung Geun-sik. Her parents were not informed of her whereabouts. Jung announced that the commission would now also investigate international adoptions of children from the brothers' home.

Documents that have since been declassified show that the raids escalated after South Korea's bid to host the 1988 Summer Olympics and Seoul eventually won. It is estimated that in 1986 more than 16,000 inmates lived in the various facilities. So far no one has been held accountable.

The forced camp system was discovered by accident. During a hunting trip, Kim Yong-won, newly appointed prosecutor in Ulsan city, observed inmates of the brothers' home building a house for the owners. Kim then carried out a raid with ten police officers in January 1987 to get to the bottom of the conditions there.

However, senior officials blocked his investigation at the direction of then-President Chun Doo-hwan's office, Kim said. The government at the time feared exposure shortly before the start of the Olympic Games.

It was not until 1989 that Park In-keun, the operator of the Busan Brothers' Home, was convicted, but only for embezzlement, violation of building regulations and foreign exchange laws. The verdict was: 30 months imprisonment.

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