Assessing the impact of transitional justice: the South Korean experience, 1980-2016
Lee, Hae Won
MetadataShow full item record
Since the 1970s we have witnessed a flourishing of transitional justice efforts around the globe. Yet, the actual impact of transitional justice is in question. This study assesses the impact of transitional justice with a single-case study of South Korea, the May 18 Democratic Movement (5.18) case in particular. In addition to the impact assessment, my dissertation provides an explanation on how transitional justice mechanisms exert their impact. To assess the impact of transitional justice, the study examines three dimensions - civil-military relations, historical narratives and institutional safeguards against human rights violations – which are essential in deterring further human rights violations by states. After process tracing the evolution of each dimension for the last 36 years, the study finds that transitional justice in South Korea has had a positive impact on deterring human rights violations since the democratic transition: the impact on civil-military relations and historical narratives is strong and positive, and the impact on institutional safeguards is positive, but somewhat limited due to South Korea’s unique security circumstances. Although the implementation of transitional justice mechanisms was imperfect and their impact is limited in some domains, on balance, the benefits of pursuing transitional justice in the South Korean case outweighed any possible costs – benefits in terms of (1) strengthening civilian control over the military, (2) creating a new historical narrative that delegitimated human rights abuses, and (3) creating institutional safeguards against human rights violations. Despite the possible negative consequences, the South Korean experience suggests that if transitional justice is pushed by strong public demand and properly implemented (sequence, timing, etc.), it can actually be more profitable and fruitful in establishing a society in which human rights are well respected and protected. The study also finds that transitional justice is a long and non-linear process, and not only the outcome but also the process itself produces a positive impact.