For a third time, the South Korean Constitutional Court is wrestling with whether the country, which relies on conscription, must recognize conscientious objection. This article reports:
Korean law stipulates that anyone who refuses military duty without justifiable cause is subjectable to imprisonment of up to three years.
“As of now, 43 prisons across the country are holding 706 young men who rejected military service based on their beliefs,” said Oh Du-jin, a legal representative of the conscientious objectors who filed a petition against the law. “The freedom of conscientious objection is a basic right that should be respected in all situations, and we believe it is the court’s duty to protect their rights.”
Lawyers for the objectors stressed that their clients did not seek to dodge military duties, but simply wanted to substitute them with nonviolent duties. Mandating a more demanding task than military duty for the objectors could be an option, they said.
They also emphasized that Article 18 of the International Covenant[ on Civil and Political Rights] recognizes the conscientious objection of military duties, while claiming that recognizing that conscientious objection is a global trend.
Countries such as Austria, Greece and Switzerland provide options of performing civilian services instead of joining the military. In some countries like Greece, the civilian service period is longer than the corresponding military service.
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. . . South Korean law stipulates that all able-bodied men must serve in the military for at least 21 months between ages 18 and 35. The service period varies according to branches: 21 months for the Army and the Marine Corp., 23 for the Navy and 24 for the Air Force.
According to the Military Manpower Administration, 6,090 people from 2004 to 2013 have rejected the mandatary military service due to their religion and various other reasons. Most notable among conscientious objectors in South Korea are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who refuse to use weapons or partake in combat training.