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History and Vision

Backgrounds

The answer to why Gwangju is a “Human Rights City” can be found in the historical background of the city, where the citizens have been consistently crying for freedom, equality, democracy, human rights and peace. Their voices culminated in the May 18th Democratization Movement.

Historical Background

  • Throughout their history, the citizens of Gwangju stood up against the exploitation of the central government through Donghak Peasant Movement(1984~95), insisting on their rights to equality. Under the Japanese Occupation in the 20th century, the citizens played a major role in pro-independence movement such as Gwangju Student Independence Movement in 1929.
  • Even after the independence from Japanese rule on August 15, 1945, the citizens of Gwangju did not stop demanding for basic human rights. They stood up once again on May 18th 1980, raising their voices against the dire situation where their political, socio-economic freedom had been taken away by the military junta.
  • This massive movement on 18th of May significantly contributed to the promotion of democracy, human rights and peace in Korea. The spirit of ‘solidarity’ revealed through the movement served as a momentum for the city to base itself upon the value of democracy, human rights and peace. Solidarity is still a valid virtue that forms the philosophical basis of social development of the future generation.

Implementation of democracy, human rights and peace

  • The city of Gwangju, based on its historical experience and identity, went on to build networks of global cooperation. Declaration of Asia Human Rights Charters in 1998 was held in Gwangju, and so was Gwangju Prize for Human Rights in 2000. Asia Human Rights School was also established in Gwangju in 2004, and series of forums on human rights issues, such as World Women’s Peace Forum in 2007, Gwangju International Peace Forum in 2009, Global Human Rights Cities Network in 2011 and World Human Rights Cities Forum 2012 would not have been held with such a passion and enthusiasm had it not been for the unique atmosphere Gwangju has acquired through its history.
  • From the institutional side, Gwangju has set a “Development Plans for City of Democracy, Human Rights and Peace” in 2003, and enacted several regulations for the protection of socially disadvantaged and promotion of the human rights. City of Gwangju has also put an emphasis on stabilizing the institutional aspect for the protection and promotion of the human rights by appointing the office in charge of human rights issues and opening the Gwangju Regional Human Rights Office National Human Rights Commission of Korea.
  • As a result of these actions taken by the city of Gwangju, the heritages of the May 18th Movements were designated as a National Treasure in UNESCO’s Memory of the World. This will hopefully lead to an opportunity to grow into a city where democracy and human rights are taught and learned.
  • Gwangju has reached a new phase where the restructuring of the city is required, in order to routinize and institutionalize the respect and manifestation of human rights.

Goals of the Human Rights City

  • Korea has accomplished economic growth and institutional democracy, but is over exposed to the wave of neo-liberalist globalization, which makes overheated competition a social norm. And this led to a social crisis where unemployment and gaps between the rich and the poor are becoming a dire everyday problem.
  • Gwangju holds the values and assets required in today’s society to overcome the crisis, such as the spirit of solidarity and the respect for democracy.
  • And this leads to our aspiration towards a human rights city, where the universal values of democracy and human rights are manifested in everyday life and emphasis is put on the notion of economic community, welfare and social responsibility based on justice.
  • The ultimate goal of forming a human rights city is improving the ‘quality of lives’ of Gwangju citizens and residents living in the city, and thus to make Gwangju the most pleasant city to live and to form Gwangju into a global hub of human rights and cultural network

The Vision of「Gwangju, a Human Rights City」 towards World Citizens

To build a city of democracy and human rights based on:
the historical assets and the infrastructure of democracy and human rights the city has, a democratic administration of participatory autonomy, and civic consciousness that functions as a catalyst in implementation of the human rights.