For Immediate Release
February 14, 2011
Nearly 1,000 conscientious objectors serving in South Korea’s prisons
Repeated calls for alternative civilian service disregarded
SEOUL, Korea—Currently, there are 903 healthy, responsible men serving prison terms in South Korea. Each would like nothing better than to make a positive contribution to society without participating in war. Since 1950, over 15,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sentenced to a combined total of 30,604 years of prison time for their conscientious objection to military service.
This situation continues despite past recommendations from both Korea’s Constitutional Court and Korea’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) urging the government to adopt alternative civilian service, which would allow harmonious existence between conscientious objection and military service. The most recent consideration of this issue by the Constitutional Court on November 11, 2010, addressed whether or not criminal punishment of conscientious objectors for refusing reserve-force training and military service violates their freedom of conscience. The hearing also considered whether Korea’s continuing failure to implement an alternative arrangement for conscientious objectors is a violation of the rights of Korea’s citizens.
“Alternative service is available to baseball players, pianists, ballet dancers and even Baduk players, so the government has proved that it is capable of making this provision available,” attorney Du-jin Oh noted in his opening argument to the court. He added, “We are asking for the same rights for conscientious objectors.”
Kim Ji-Gwan, a conscientious objector whose story was introduced before the court, had expressed his personal reasons for refusing to participate in military training and war in his trial. He stated: “I was deeply moved by such Bible teachings as ‘people would learn war no more’ and ‘love your neighbors as yourselves.’ I also learned that ‘principled love’ can result in the love of one’s enemies. Therefore, based on these and other scriptures and as a result of my firm personal convictions, I made the decision to refuse military service.”
Noting the concern of the representative from the Ministry of Defense, that an alternative to military service would weaken the national defense of the country, attorney Hana Lee, in her closing remarks, directed the court to consider the precedents that have been established in Germany, Greece, and Taiwan: She stated: “All three have successfully implemented an alternative service program that has not threatened the strength of their national defense.”
In addition to this recent Constitutional Court hearing in Seoul, there are now 488 cases before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which has ruled twice that the Republic of South Korea is in violation of its commitments under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. Similar rulings condemning South Korea’s treatment of conscientious objectors are expected early in 2011.
In Republic of Korea: Dae il Hong, tel. +82 10 3951 0835
In USA: J. R. Brown, tel. +1 718 560-5600