On May 17, 2019, prominent human rights defenders, students, academicians from all the world and people of Gwangju gathered to discuss significant human rights issues of the world. The purpose of the gathering was to commemorate the 39th anniversary of the pro-democracy social movement of 1980 in Gwangju. The participants unanimously shared the Gwangju Declaration, which emphasized “When will Massacre and Exclusion End? Stop denying the May 18 Democratic Uprising and the hatred against Refugees”.
The fundamental idea of the Gwangju Declaration was to highlight and discuss recent human rights challenges about genocide, refugees, and hate remarks against the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising and call for the international community to resolve such serious human rights issues.
The May 18 Democratic Uprising is known as a milestone of South Korea’s democratization movements and modern democracy. Besides, it has made significant impact on other countries democratic struggles in Asia. However, even though the Special Act on Discovering the Truth of the May 18 Democratic Uprising has been approved by the National Assembly of Korea, a committee has yet to be established.
It is because the opposition party has nominated persons who deny the May 18 Uprising. However, the hate remarks by a member of a political party are not only hurting the May 18 sacrifices but is also causing division in the nation. Therefore, human rights defenders, academics, and people of Gwangju stated in the Declaration “Stop denying and attacking the May 18 Democratic Uprising. Denying history without clear evidence and attacking victims of state violence is an act of whitewashing the genocide. What we need to do now is to start the truth-finding project which has been delayed for 39 years. For truth-finding, a special investigation committee should be established as soon as possible”.
Besides, to continue the interrupted history correction process in Korea, a Framework Act for Truth, Reconciliation, and History correction should be passed. Facing the past is a universal agenda, especially in a country that experienced an authoritarian regime. And the revision of history should not be established based on political or ideological motives.
It should focus on truth-finding, recovering victims’ rights, preventing future human rights violation, and constructing social harmony in Korea.
Presently, the modern world is facing various armed conflicts that has triggered around 68 million peoples displacement, and among them, approximately 7.7 million peoples are living in Asia. In Asia, about 3.5 million are refugees, 1.9 million are internally displaced, and 1.4 millions are stateless. Asia produces shelters for refugees, including Rohingya refugees, who are fleeing from a tragic and violent campaign of genocide. These refugees in Asia are not sufficiently protected. However, they are not recognised as rights-holders. They are being detained, deported, and are struggling to survive outside the protection of legal safeguard and public support. Therefore, the Gwangju Asia Forum called to protect and asserted the following recommendation about the protection of refugees.
First, that all Governments must ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and it’s 1967 Protocol.
Secondly, governments who already ratified that refugee convention should amend or enact domestic laws to bring refugee protection mechanisms.
Thirdly, all governments should develop a refugee status determination procedures following international human rights norms.
Finally, all governments must implement laws and policies to prevent hatred and discrimination against refugees through instruments such as comprehensive anti-discrimination laws and practical measures for education against hate and bigotry.
Moreover, civil society organisations should give importance to the voices of refugees in their advocacy efforts who are not passive subjects but are primary stakeholders of refugees issues in the world.
The Gwangju Asia Forum launched its Declaration to mark the 39th commemoration of the May 18 Uprising and thousands of the peoples, including the survivors and the victims’ families, thronged the May 18 National Cemetery in Gwangju. The participants shared their grief and anger against the then military dictatorship. The people of Gwangju declared that they will never surrender to any tyrant and will keep promoting the May 18 Spirit in Korea and all around the world.