5•18 민주화운동 기록물은 광주 민주화 운동의 발발과 진압, 그리고 이후의 진상 규명과 보상 등의 과정과 관련해 정부, 국회, 시민, 단체 그리고 미국 정부 등에서 생산한 방대한 자료를 포함하고 있는 기록물이다. 우리나라의 민주화는 물론 필리핀, 태국, 베트남 등 아시아 여러 나라의 민주화운동에 커다란 영향을 주었으며 민주화 과정에서 실시한 진상규명 및 피해자 대상 보상 사례도 여러 나라에 좋은 선례가 되었다는 점이 높이 평가 받았다. 세계의 학자들은 5•18 민주화운동을 '전환기의 정의(transitional justice)'라는 과거 청산에서 가장 모범이 되는 사례라고 말한다. 남미나 남아공 등지에서 발생한 국가폭력과 반인륜적 범죄행위에 대해 과거청산작업이 단편적으로 이루어진 반면, 광주에서는 '진상 규명', '책임자 처벌', '명예 회복', '피해 보상', '기념사업'의 5대 원칙이 모두 관철되었다.
세계기록유산에 등재된 5•18 민주화운동 기록물은 3종류로 대별된다. 첫째, 공공 기관이 생산한 문서이다. 여기에는 중앙 정부의 행정 문서, 군 사법기관의 수사•재판 기록 등이 포함되어 있다. 이것들은 당시 국가 체제의 성격을 드러내는 매우 중요한 자료이다. 사건 당시와 그 후 현장 공무원들에 의해 기록된 상황일지 등의 자료 등이 있으며, 이후 피해자들에 대한 각종 보상 관련 서류 등이 포함되는데 이것들을 통해 당시의 피해 상황을 어느 정도 짐작해 볼 수 있다.
둘째, 5•18 민주화운동 기간에 단체들이 작성한 문건과 개인이 작성한 일기, 기자들이 작성한 취재수첩 등이다. 각종 성명서, 선언문, 대자보, 일기장과 취재수첩을 포함하고 있으며 그 중에서도 사진 기자들과 외국 특파원들이 촬영한 사진들은 외부와의 통신이 단절된 상황에서 광주의 상황을 생생하게 전해주고 있다. 또한 피해자들에 대한 구술 증언 테이프 등도 포함된다.
셋째, 1980년 5.18 민주화운동이 종료된 후 군사정부 하에서 진상규명과 관련자들의 명예회복을 위해 국회와 법원 등에서 생산된 자료와 주한미국대사관이 미국 국무성과 국방부 사이에 오고 간 전문이다. 5.18 민주화운동 기록물은 다음과 같이 총 9주제로 구분되어 있고, 기록문서철 4,271권, 858,900여 페이지, 네거티브 필름 2,017 컷, 사진 1,733점 등이다.
- 국가기관이 생산한 5•18민주화운동 자료(국가기록원, 광주광역시 소장)
- 군사법기관재판자료,김대중내란음모사건자료(육군본부 소장)
- 시민들이 생산한 성명서, 선언문, 취재수첩, 일기(광주광역시 소장)
- 흑백필름, 사진(광주광역시, 5•18기념재단 소장)
- 시민들의 기록과 증언(5.18기념재단 소장)
- 피해자들의 병원치료기록(광주광역시 소장)
- 국회의 5•18광주민주화운동 진상규명회의록(국회도서관 소장)
- 국가의 피해자 보상자료(광주광역시 소장)
- 미국의 5•18 관련 비밀해제 문서(미국 국무성, 국방부 소장)
518 민주화운동 기록물은 2011년 5월 유네스코 세계기록유산으로 등록되었다.
The events of May 1980 followed quickly upon the October 1979 assassination of President Jeong-hui Park at the hands of the director of the KCIA, one of his closest colleagues. The unforeseen death of a dictator who had taken control of the country following a military coup was expected to usher in an era of democracy long hoped-for by the people of Korea. Unfortunately, things unfolded differently. In the absence of authority, another military coup took place. Students and citizens from across the country were enraged by the situation and took to the streets in protest against the government. On May 18 th , 1980 the people of Gwangju passionately protested against the nationwide imposition of martial law. The new military government responsible for the coup dispatched special force paratroopers to Gwangju in order to suppress a peaceful protest led by university students and citizens.
The paratroopers brutally and randomly assaulted men and women, old and young, regardless of whether or not they possessed sticks. Such attacks aggravated the situation further, and more and more people joined the demonstrations. On day five of the protest, May 21 st , 1980, soldiers opened fire on citizens leaving hundreds of people injured or dead before being driven by massive resistance to a position outside the city. Gwangju was isolated from the rest of the country, surrounded by soldiers who allowed no vehicles or communication from outside until the troops re-entered the city on May 27 th , 1980. Despite the blockade, people continued their ordinary lives, living as an autonomous community, cleaning the city, opening stores and shops, etc. Amazingly, not a single case of robbery or burglary was reported despite having no proper administration or security force. However, in the early morning of May 27 th the community was brutally ransacked by paratroopers using tanks and helicopters. During 10 days of resistance, 165 citizens died in and around Gwangju. 76 people went missing, 3,383 were injured, and 1,476 were arrested, affecting 5,100 in total. In addition, 102 people later died due to injuries incurred during the siege. Survivors were far from unscathed with many reporting mental health problems such as auditory hallucinations, somnambulism, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, etc. Incidences of divorce and suicide were uncommonly high among survivors, suggesting that the physical and emotional trauma left an indelible mark on those who experienced events first-hand.
For years the military government enforced a strict prohibition on public discussion of the traumatic events of May 1980. However, the anguished cries of the bereaved families triggered a large scale democratic struggle that culminated in the citizens of Korea being awarded a direct vote in 1987. In 1989 the 'Gwangju Riot' was officially renamed 'the May 18th Democratic Uprising' by the President. In 1995 a special law pertaining to the punishment of the perpetrators (Act No. 5029) was enacted by the National Assembly. Around the same time, legal action was initiated against two former presidents and the senior staff responsible for the brutal suppression (sentencing of the Supreme Court, occurred in April 1997). Participants of the uprising who had been sentenced to severe punishment for rebellion were subsequently found not guilty. In 1990 victims of the May 18th Democratic Uprising began to receive compensation for their losses (Act No. 4266), and in 1997 May 18th was designated as a national holiday. In 2002 the cemetery used during the May 18th Democratic Uprising became a national cemetery, and victims became eligible to receive benefits as people of national merit (Presidential Decree No. 17687).
References to the May 18th Democratic Uprising are divided into three types. First, there are documents produced by the government institutions that came to power after 1980. They include administrative documents of the central government as well as records of investigation and trial by military judicial institutes. These serve to demonstrate the nature of the government in and before 1980. All the documents recorded by public officials during and after the incident as well as situation reports and compensation-related documents showing the severity of the damage are included. Secondly, there are documents produced at the time of the May 18th Democratic Uprising (old statements, declarations, hand-written posters and reporters' notebooks) that reveal just how urgent and desperate the situation was. Particularly compelling are the photos by photographers and foreign correspondents that document the extent to which Gwangju was cut off from the outside world. Thirdly, there are documents produced by the National Assembly and Supreme Court aimed at restoring the reputation of the people and discovering the truth about the incidents that took place during the time of the military government following the May 18th Democratic Uprising. So far books referring to the May 18th Democratic Uprising have been published. The references will be distributed to major libraries and institutes of Korean studies all over the world, and to all the libraries in Korea in order to promote new studies and awareness of the uprising. Democratization in Asia will be accelerated once documents relating to the uprising are registered as a UNESCO World Record Heritage Record.