Gwangju Asian Human right Forum

This Forum was hold by the May 18 Foundation[i] which the organization’s goal is not only to commemorate Korea 1980 May 18th Gwangju uprising but also to research on international human right. The Gwangju Asia Forum was held from May 16th to May 18th. Forum schedule as following table:

Date Program
16 May 09:00-12:30 SDMA Workshop I: Monitoring and Assessing Democracies in Asia (Regional Workshop)
12:30-14:00 Lunch
14:00-16:30 SDMA Workshop I: Monitoring and Assessing Democracies in Asia (Regional Workshop)
17 May 10:00-11:00 Opening Ceremony: Forum Introduction/Welcoming Adress, Keynote Speech/Photo time
11:30-12:00 SDMA Workshop II: Judicial Watch: Review of Verdict by Asian Civil Society(Regional Workshop)
12:00-13:00 Lunch
13:00-17:20 SDMA Workshop II: Judicial Watch: Review of Verdict by Asian Civil Society(Regional Workshop)
14:00-16:00 East Asia Democracy, Peace and Human Right Network
13:30-17:20 Human Right Violations Trauma & Rehabilitation Workshop
13:20-17:00 Co-Forum for Solidarity for National Historical Workshop
17:30- Dinner
18:00 May Eve Festival
18 May 10:00-11:00 Official 32nd Commemorative Ceremony of May 18 Uprising
11:00-17:00 Lunch & Culture Sites Tour
17:00-18:00 Dinner
19:00-21:00 2012 Gwangju Prize for Human Right Award Ceremony Closing Ceremony of 2012 Gwangju Asia Forum
22:00 Solidarity Night

Source: 2012 Gwangju Asia Forum official handbook.

The PSPD was one of invited NGO among other NGOs from different countries. Even though the majority invited NGOs were from Asia but there were some participators from Europe and America. The diversification made the forum discussion more interesting.

Me and some numbers of Forum-Asia[ii] arrived Gwangju at May 15th evening. In May 16th, the conference agenda was SDMA workshop (Monitoring and Assessing Democracies in Asia) which the goal was originally to came out a fixed questionnaire and dispatch to the number NGOs of May 18th foundation. The idea was to study the data from different countries and apply the data to analyze the target country’s democratization level. Originally, this questionnaire would be dispatch to the number NGOs and the data would be analyzed before the Bali Democratic Forum in the end of 2012. But unfortunately the process of having a consensus among NGOs was not smooth going. In the end, the questionnaire proposal was suspended. On the other hand, fortunately in the end of meeting, the committee of the SDMA workshop came out a consensus that to dispatch the questionnaire to a Southeast Asia country as a trial.

In May 17th morning, we attended the opening ceremony for 2012 Gwangju Asia Forum. After the ceremony, the Forum was started. In the morning, PSPD judicial watch team’s team leader Professor Sang hie Han was the presenter of morning session “Judicial Monitoring and Review of Verdict”. In this session, professor Han shared a project which was being carried out by PSPD judicial watch team in recent years.

After the morning session, the agenda came to the second session “Review of Verdict-Success and Challenge stories in Asia”. Four different workshops were under going simultaneously in different rooms. There were four main workshops: SDMA workshop II: Judicial Watch: Review of Verdict by Asian Civil Society (Regional Workshop), East Asia Democracy, Peace and Human Rights Network, Human Rights Violations Trauma & Rehabilitation Workshop and Co-Forum for Solidarity for National Historical Justice.

I attended the SDMA judicial watch workshop. In this workshop, five countries’ judicial watch NGO presented the judicial watch/reform process in their judicial system. The NGOs from Cambodia, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Taiwan and India were in the workshop to share their thoughts from they own experience of preceding judicial reform. And they also took questions from the audiences in order to have brainstorming. In the end of May 17th conference agenda, the participants should come out some common strategies on review of verdict at regional level. Unfortunately, the participants were luck of consensus in the meeting; the future action plan didn’t come out after the discussion.

After the seminar, we went to the May 18 street festival. The festival was hold in JinNan ro which the scene of 1980 May 18th, uprising. We arrived JinNan ro around 7:00 PM; the street was already full of people who came to join the annual Gwangju memorial event. A big stage was placed in the end of street and many different performances performed one after another. Most of performances were focus on the May 18th uprising reappearance, the atmosphere was really solemn. People started to dispatch candles to each other and it made the atmosphere even more dignified. Through this festival and different performances, people would not forget the price that Gwangju people had paid for Korean democratization. And it also made people to be awarded of that government can be rotten by the unlimited power. In this regard, NGO and people’s organization can be the balancer of it.

In the morning of May 18th, we attended the official 32nd Commemorative Ceremony of 1980 May 18 Uprising and Korea Prime Minister Kin Hwang-sik who belongs to conservative party attended the ceremony as well. The Prime minister didn’t give his apology to the public or the victim’s relatives on the ceremony. I felt surprised to acknowledge that. But after I asked the staff of May 18 foundation about the detail of Korean government’s official attitude towards uprising, I realized I misunderstand some part of detail. In 1993, the ex-president Kim Young-sam identified the May 18 Gwangju uprising as a civil strife that ex-president Chun Doo-hwan conducted it to remain his power in the government. In February 28, 1996, under the Kim Young-sam government, the ex-presidents Chun doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo had been convicted offenses against the internal security of the state; moreover, the ex-president Chun doo-hwan had even been sentenced to death. In this respect, after the trial, Gwangju May18 uprising was officially reversed by Korean government.

After the ceremony, we went to a field trip in Song-gwang temple for whole afternoon. At evening the 2012 Gwangju Prize for Human Right Award ceremony and the Closing ceremony of 2012 Gwangju Asia Forum was hold in May 18 memorial hall. Father Mun who was the spiritual leader in “Anti-Jeju island naval base construction campaign” received the Gwangju Prize for Human Right Award. In my personal opinion, father Mun was the perfect person to be awarded in this human right prize. The sacrifices that father Mun gave to Korea human right improving was indescribable. In this regard, he deserved to be awarded the prize.

In the beginning of Republic of China period, there was a famous saying by a Chinese scholar Hu Shih: “The value of fighting your own freedom is same as fighting your country’s freedom. The value of fighting your own right is same as fighting your country’s right;That is because a country with freedom and equality can not be built by a crowd of obedient citizens”. In this regard, I believe the value of individual human right and country’s development is not contradicted.

Even this conference didn’t come out a group consensus or future action plan, the process of Asian demoralization would keep going. And I believe that these friends I met from different countries will keep fighting until the day the mature democracy is rooted in Asian countries’ society.

[i] The May18 Memorial Foundation official website,

[ii] Asian Forum for Human Right and Development official website,


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