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Difficult legal aspects of 4.3Jeju National University Law School answers your questions
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승인 2011.04.10  19:10:12
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I heard that after Lee Myung Bak took power, the central government stopped funding for the victims of the April 3 Massacre. It would be interesting to know what each government (national and provincial) is responsible for, how these laws came to be, and if they have changed over time.

Dear Reader,

It is difficult to look at the 4.3 incident from a legal and not a political point of view. I always hesitate to speak on the issue since there remains huge grief and pain in the hearts of victims of the April 3rd, 1948 incident. Therefore, it is not an issue that can be easily judged by cold-hearted law. To define the term “victim” in the 4.3 incident, we must look at the Special Act on Jeju 4.3 Incident Truth-Finding and Regaining the Impaired Reputation of Victims (the 4.3 Act).

The 4.3 incident can be described as an event, accident, or massacre. We still do not know the exact number of victims who were killed by the 4.3 incident.

Efforts to find the truth of the 4.3 incident

Families of victims to the 4.3 incident and civic groups have requested truth-finding initiatives and to rehabilitate the reputation of 4.3 victims. As a result, with democracy, the National Assembly legislated the 4.3 Act that constituted the Committee to investigate the Jeju 4.3 Incident.

The report written by the committee found that the Lee Syngman administration did have responsibility for 4.3. Based on the committee’s findings President Roh Moo Hyun apologized to the people of Jeju Island. This is considered, in my opinion, as an epoch-making event that transformed Korean contemporary history and raised Korean human rights to the next level.

Legal definition of the 4.3 incident

In the 4.3 Act, the 4.3 incident is defined as when people were killed during armed conflicts between civilians and the military and the police from March 1, 1947 to Sept. 21, 1954.

Discussion of the definition of 4.3 incident victims

In the 4.3 Act, the term “victim” is defined as a person who was killed, is missing, has suffered due to the 4.3 incident, or was imprisoned during the 4.3 incident. The term “bereaved” is defined as a person who was or is a spouse or family member of a victim.

The term victim is defined by the 4.3 Act and the enforcement decree of the 4.3 Act. The 4.3 Act does not define who is a victim, but rather the committee decides who are victims of the 4.3 incident based on the principles of the Korean Constitution.

By the way, the Korean Constitutional Court says the Korean government should rule out Communists from the list of 4.3 incident victims. In other words, not all persons who were killed on the 4.3 Incident are victims.

The support of victims on the 4.3 incident

Because of the single 5-year term of the president in the Korean system, the protective policy for victims of the 4.3 incident has been inconsistent. These days the Korean government reduced funds to compensate victims of the 4.3 incident. Because of this lack of funding, Jeju government is not able to do more for the 4.3 victims and their bereaved members.

The committee has not convened for 3 years, resulting in approximately 3,000 people still waiting to be named as either “victim” or “bereaved.”

In conclusion

The 4.3 Act needs to be revised to complete both the support for the bereaved family members and victims, and to further continue investigating the 4.3 incident. This kind of historic tragedy should not be repeated.

A political decision should be kept consistent, and the relevant authorities and regional government should closely cooperate to carry out a policy relating to the 4.3 incident. The policy should not be for electoral purposes only. The discussion for victims of the 4.3 incident is still ongoing.

President Lee Myung Bak did speak about the 4.3 incident when he was a candidate for president in 2007 and advised that the policy would not be changed. However, he then did change the policy of the Korean government. He did not come to the 4.3 memorial service. Instead, Kim Hwang Sik, the Korean Prime Minister, attended the 63rd anniversary of the 4.3 memorial service as a representative of Korean government. He promised to try to make 4.3 as a national holiday and increase funding for the 4.3 victims. I wonder if it will happen as he said.

Lee Seon Hyoung is a graduate student at Jeju National University Law School and a legal counselor at the JNU’s Legal Clinic.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered in Korea. Readers should consult a lawyer for detailed legal advice. As a service to the non-Korean community, the Jeju National University Legal Clinic (064-754-2989) is available for consultations during regular business hours, Monday to Friday.

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