According to a Kyunghyang Shinmun report released on 07 April 2015, the Seoul government plans to make a human rights tour route. It aims to offer a public educational ground for human rights through introducing places in which human rights abuses took place in the past, the Seoul government announced on April 07.
The tour will be based on a visit to three places: the Seodaemun prison history hall, the former site of the central intelligence agency at Namsan and the former site of the anticommunist office at Namyeong-dong. (To help our readers understand the historical significance of these sites, brief descriptions about each are included at the bottom of this article.)
Along the three main places, the Seoul government plans to create a tour route which enables people to tour by bus or on foot. The new bus routes connect with the three places and plans to operate a shuttle bus are currently under review, it added.
Sign boards elucidating the human rights abuse committed at each site and various structures helping people understand the historical background to the human rights abuse will be established at the three locations. In fact, in 2012, there was a petition from human rights NGOs to install sign boards around the Namsan site and the Seoul government began the project in 2013, though it was later suspended indefinitely over concerns regarding a lack of clarity and accuracy of the exact locations described.
The government has a plan to offer a pilot tour to the victims of the human rights abuses and officials of human rights groups in coming August, and then it plans to offer a tour course the public on December 10, Human Rights Day.
Park Dong-suk, a human rights officer in the Seoul government, said there have been continuous petitions for preserving the sites of human rights abuses in Korea to serve as reminders for future generations. The Seoul government will do its best to create a space for learning and imparting the value of human rights, he added.
As Kim Chul-hwan, the director of Saram Human Rights Foundation, said in 2012, Namsan is now largely known simply as a tourist attraction by many Korean people in their 10s and 20s. Given this reality, it is hoped that the Seoul government’s new project will bring positive effects on raising awareness of both human rights and forgotten history.
There was no word on whether the tours would be made available in languages other than Korean at a later date. The Seodaemun Prison site already has thorough signage and information available in English, but the other two locations currently do not.
The Seodaemun Prison History Hall
The Seodaemun prison was the place where Japanese soldiers jailed and severely tortured Korean patriots during the Japanese colonial era. The Seodaemun prison history hall was built in remembrance of the cruelty of war and the fighters for national independence.
The Central Intelligence Agency at Namsan
It is one of symbolic sites of post-liberation military dictatorship. The Central Intelligence Agency was established by Park Chung-hee, president-cum-dictator who seized power in a military coup d’état in 1961. Many people who participated in the democracy movement against Park’s dictatorship were hauled in for violent interrogations, and they were tortured by several methods including electric shock and water waterboarding.
The Anticommunist Office (Daegong bunso 대공분소 對共分所) at Namyeong-dong
It is another symbolic site of dictatorship era. Under the name of anti-communism, a large number of people who participated in the pro- democracy movement or suspected of being in the movement were arrested and subjected to torture here in the 1970s and 1980s. The place became widely known because of two individuals: Kim Geun-tae, a democracy activist who was severely tortured here for 20 days in 1985 and Park Jong-chul, a college student who died from tortured here in 1987.