South Korean court to re-open case on abusive vagrant facility

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) — South Korea’s Supreme Court said yesterday it will re-open a case related to the enslavement and abuse of thousands of people at a vagrants’ facility in the 1970s and 1980s, over three decades after its owner was acquitted of serious charges. A finding that the government failed to protect the constitutional rights of former inmates could boost their push for compensation.

In November 2018, then-Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il requested an “exceptional appeal” of the case of late owner of state-funded Brothers Home Park In-keun, who was acquitted in 1989 of charges linked to illegal confinement of inmates in a widely criticised ruling. Park, who served a short prison term for embezzlement and other relatively minor charges, died in 2016.

Under South Korean law, an exceptional appeal allows the court to correct grave mistakes in interpretation of law, though it cannot impose new punishment on the defendant. The court told The Associated Press (AP) that it will hear the case with a full panel and will begin with a closed-door session of its justices next Thursday to review court records and other evidence. It remains unclear how much of the hearings will be open to the public and whether former inmates will be called to testify.

No one has been held accountable for hundreds of deaths, rapes and beatings at Brothers Home that were documented by an AP report in 2016.

The AP report was based on hundreds of exclusive documents and dozens of interviews with officials and former detainees, which showed that the abuse at Brothers Home was much more vicious and widespread than previously known.

In a follow-up report in 2019, the AP described how Brothers Home also shipped children overseas for adoption as part of a massive profit-seeking enterprise.

Military dictators in the 1960s to 1980s ordered roundups of vagrants to beautify the streets, sending thousands of homeless and disabled people and children to facilities where they were detained and forced to work. The drive intensified as South Korea began preparing to bid for and host the 1988 Summer Olympics. Brothers Home, a mountainside compound in the southern city of Busan, was the largest of these facilities and had around 4,000 inmates when its horrors were exposed in early 1987.