South Korea: Government plans tougher regulations against conscientious objectors
(17.12.2018) On 13 December 2018, another hearing was held in Seoul, South Korea, on a legislative amendment proposing a so-called alternative service for conscientious objectors. As it turns out, the government does, in fact, provide for stricter regulations that have conscientious objectors serve and live exclusively in detention centers for a period nearly twice as long, viz. 36 months.
In fundamental decisions arrived at in June and November of 2018, respectively, both the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of the country had found the previous prosecution of conscientious objectors to clash that with the constitution and international law. As stated by the Supreme Court on 1 November 2018, conscientious objection is a "legitimate reason" not to follow a call-up.
"The current South Korean government's draft basically means that the conditions for the conscientious objectors are worsening," Rudi Friedrich of Connection e.V. said today. “Obviously the government and the military are agreed on maintaining the status quo by means of a marked extension of the so-called alternative service’s duration. Deploying and accommodating them in, or attached to, prisons is an outright affront to conscientious objectors. This service is nothing more than a prolonged punitive service."
In South Korea military service is compulsory for all men and lasts 21 months. The Military Service Code sanctions conscientious objection with up to three years in prison. So far most conscientious objectors have been sentenced to 18 months. In the last 68 years, nearly 20,000 conscientious objectors have been imprisoned, serving a total of 37,000 years in prison. As before, they are considered as having criminal records.
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Because of the court decisions, the government saw itself obliged to release most conscientious objectors from custody. Following a review on 30 November, 58 were released. Thirteen more are still being detained because in their cases either the military does not presume a valid conscientious objection or they have not yet served a third of their sentence period and thus are not eligible for probation. "This too," says Rudi Friedrich, "shows the government’s highhandedness in overruling the decision of the courts. As a result of the Constitutional Court’s decision of 28 June 2018, nothing else than an immediate cessation of all proceedings, an annulment of all previous rulings, an awarding of compensation for damages as well as an immediate release from detention should have been called for.”
Other provisions of the government's bill subject conscientious objection to a review by committees set up by the Ministry of Defence, do not admit for the duration of military service, filing for exemption from service, and put supervision of the alternative service in the domain of the Department of Defence. World Without War, an organization in Seoul that has been campaigning for conscientious objectors in South Korea for many years, writes: “The current government draft does not comply with international human rights standards and laws. It is punitive and discriminatory."
“Judging from the current mood”, Yong-Suk Lee of World Without War adds, "probably all conscientious objectors who are not Jehovah's Witnesses will be denied recognition." This would mean the continued criminalisation of conscientious objectors.
"It is very regrettable," concludes Rudi Friedrich, "that the South Korean government is uncompromisingly continuing to pursue its Cold War policy. At this point, a stance should have been taken that extends respect to people’s peace efforts and takes them seriously."
Connection e.V.: Press release, December 17, 2018