Sunday, October 18, 2009

Brothers Discuss Conscription

An interview with two inebriated brothers who share their opinions on Korean hierarchical society, their apprehensions about forced conscription, and their conflicted conviction on the need for a military.

Friday, October 16, 2009

North Korean Refugee speaks about Conscription

An interview with a North Korean refugee who settled in South Korea. North Koreans who became naturalized in the South were not allowed to join the military, giving him a unique perspective on South Korea's mandatory military service.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

South Korea: Judge petitions Constitutional Court on conscientious objection

A South Korean judge again filed a petition with the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the country's Military Service Act in the case of a conscientious objector who refused military service, JoongAng Daily reported on 10 September 2009. The judge claims that clause 1 of article 88 of the Military Service Act - "If a person who has received a draft notice for active duty or Notice of Summons (including Notice of Summons for voluntary enlistment), without justifiable cause, does not report for service within the period specified in the following clauses or refuses the summons, then he shall be sentenced to a prison term of three years or less." - conflicts with Article 19 of the South Korean constitution, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. “The clause in the military service act is unconstitutional by excessively violating freedom of conscience by forcing conscientious objectors to do their military duty and then punishing them,” the judge said.

Legislators are responsible for creating alternatives to resolve the conflict,” Judge Park said, arguing that punishing conscientious objectors without providing any alternative forms of national service violates the principle that infringements upon basic rights must be minimised.
The country's Constitutional Court last dealt with the question of conscientious objection in 2001.

While the Court ruled back then that clause 1 of article 88 of the Military Service Act is constitutional, it also made some recommendations to the legislator: "The legislator has the duty to relieve the conflict in conscience by providing, to the extent that freedom of conscience specified in Article 19 of the Constitution does not damage public interests or legal order, alternative plans such as other possible options that can take the place of the legal duty or case-by-case exemptions from the legal duty, and if he can not provide such options, then he should at least consider if mitigation or exemption in punishments and penalties imposed for violating the duty can be permitted in order to protect the freedom of conscience.
Therefore, the legislator should earnestly consider whether there is a plan that can relieve the conflict between freedom of conscience and the public interest of national security and make the two interests coexist in harmony, whether there is an alternative plan that can protect the conscience of objectors to military service while preserving the public interest of national security, and whether our society has matured to the point where it can now show understanding and tolerance toward conscientious objectors, and even if the legislator decides, upon further review, to not adopt a system of alternative service, it should be considered whether the legislature would move in a direction to help protect conscience by having organizations that apply the law act in a manner that is legally more friendly to conscience."

Since then, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has decided on two individual complaints from South Korea. In its decision on Yeo-Bum Yoon and Mr. Myung-Jin Choi vs. Republik of Korea, the Human Rights Committee came to the conclusion that not to provide for conscientious objection is a violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
Since then, the former South Korean government had originally announced in September 2007 to introduce the right to conscientious objection. However, the present government backtracked on this promise, citing opinion polls as an excuse.

Presently, almost 500 individual complaints of conscientious objectors are pending at the Human Rights Committee. These, plus the new petition to the Constitutional Court, might increase pressure on the South Korean government to finally comply with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to recognise the right to conscientious objection.

Sources: JoongAng Daily: Draft dodger reignites row over military duty, 10 September 2009; War Resisters' International: Country report and updates: Korea, South, 23 March 2009; War Resisters' International: South Korea: Constitutional Court decides against right to conscientious objection, CO-Update No 1, September 2004; Constitutional Court of Korea: Decision of the Constitutional Court of Korea on Conscientious Objection, 26 August 2004; War Resisters' International: Landmark decision of UN Human Rights Committee on right to conscientious objection, CO-Update No 27, February 2007; Human Rights Committee: Communications Nos. 1321/2004 and 1322/2004 : Republic of Korea. 23/01/2007. CCPR/C/88/D/1321-1322/2004. (Jurisprudence); War Resisters' International: South Korea to legalise conscientious objection, CO-Update No 33, October 2007; War Resisters' International: South Korea: No rights for conscientious objectors, CO-Update No 44, January 2009

Published in CO-Update, October 2009, No. 51

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Jungmin Oh's Declaration of Conscientious Objection

The armed Forces are War-Making Machines

Declaration of conscientious objection - Jungmin Oh

Jungmin Oh.   Photo : World Without war

Jungmin Oh. Photo : World Without war

To be liberated or to be incarcerated? It is an unavoidably acute question. The world we live in, at the global level, is constantly at war. Not surprisingly, as of the beginning of January 2009, we can see the war currently continuing in Gaza. The 20th century is remembered as an age of wars and presumably so will be the 21st. The US government started the 'war on terror' against Iraq after the 11 September attacks. The Iraq war was nothing but another dreadful war. Not only were the nation state of Iraq and the terrorists deemed to be enemies of the US, but the US clearly declared this was a war against evil. Clarifying who is evil requires great care. Nonetheless, we have observed that any person or group, especially anti-war groups and Muslims, can be regarded as 'evil'. The fact that the concept of 'evil' is too abstract to be defined may lead to a situation where, at one time or another, citizens of a country as well as people outside it are considered to be enemies. An enemy can now exist anywhere regardless of the borders among nation states. When we ourselves at any time can be labelled as an enemy, it can possibly be said that at that moment we live in the age of wars.
The South Korean government have been taking part in the war in Iraq. In 2003, it decided to send troops there despite the lack of proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Despite the daily demonstration against this decision, and the kidnapping and beheading by Iraqi militants of a South Korean, Kim Sun-il, the government didn't cancel the deployment plan. Instead, it introduced an Anti-Terrorism Act, based on their view that the people are potential terrorists. This was exactly the same as what happened in the US.
I was among the crowd protesting against the war in Iraq and the deployment of Korean troops. Despite our efforts, South Korean troops were sent. In the end, it was revealed that Iraq didn't have any weapons of mass destruction, which meant the US government was wrong. Notwithstanding, the South Korean government and the people who supported the government's decision neither apologised for their lie nor took any responsibility for the result - an absolutely intolerable reaction.
I believe the armed forces are simply just one of national institutions whose reason for existence is to prepare for wars. The armed forces always prepare for a war, even when there is no war. Hence, the military is by no means 'an organisation which prevents a war'. In fact, it is an organisation that makes war. I do not find any reason for which I ought to do my military service in this kind of armed force. Refusing to be called up follows ineluctably from my determination to liberate myself instead of living imprisoned as a human being living in a so-called 'the age of war'.

A War is Incompatible with Democracy

War cannot be compatible with democracy. Rather, war is a retreat from democracy. Article 5 of the South Korean constitution states that 'the Republic of Korea endeavours to maintain international peace and renounces all aggressive wars'. Accordingly, the South Korean government's has breached the constitution in sending troops to Vietnam and Iraq, wars that we avoidable and aggressive, not in self-defence. The US government presented the war on Iraq as 'preventive war'. If this invasion was not an aggressive war, which war can be considered aggressive? The South Korean government have definitely been infringing democracy by breaking the constitution. Not only will respect for the constitution be restored, but also there will be no democracy until the government stop doing such iniquitous things. I have decided, in a desperate resort to defend our democracy, not to do military service on behalf of the government which neither apologise for the result caused by their participation of the aggressive wars nor take any responsibility for that.

Democracy is constituent power

Democracy in Korea was again set back in July and August 2004. The Korean Supreme Court, on 15 July 2004, found conscientious objectors guilty, while the South Korean Constitutional Court, on 26 August 2004, rejected a constitutional challenge to article 88 of the Military Service Act. I am against these nationalistic decisions which state that the 'duty of national defence' is more important than 'individual's freedom of conscience'. As long as such decisions continue to be made, the right to freedom will remain infringed by nationalistic reasoning. Underlying a written constitution is the practice of the people. Article 1, Section 2 of the South Korean constitution states that 'the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea resides in the people, and all state authority emanates from the people'. This means the source of power to establish a constitution, constituent power, originates from the people. A constitutional code is temporary: it can be amended by constituent power whenever needed. A duty of national defence and a nation itself cannot exist unless a member of a nation exists. Therefore, it is the people's will, not nation's one, which should be respected. This is what I think democracy is.
This is the reason for my objection to military service. I feel guilt towards my parents. This pain may be the same as what other conscientious objectors, their family, lovers, friends and their supporters have gone through up until now. I would really like to apologise to my parents for my decision to object military service while I also would like to console other conscientious objectors. I hope the step we take today will lead to another pleasurable step on our way to democracy.

On Tuesday, January 6, 2009,

May 15th 2009 International Conscientious Objector's Day and War Resisters International Conference

May 15th 2009 International Conscientious Objector's Day

War Resisters International has an annual conference. This year's conferencen will take place in Seoul and focus on the situation of Conscientious Objection in South Korea.

Non-violence training: May 10-14th at Ilsan Han River Methodist Church
Participation fee: 40,000 won (10,000 won for one event)

Direct Action: May 15th Somewhere in downtown Seoul

Members of the non-violence training workshops will decide on the direct action together.

International Conference: May 15th 1pm Conscientious Objectors and Peace Activists from Greece, Macedonia, USA, Eritrea, Israel will share their experiences and particular circumstances.

Peace Concert: May 16th 7pm
A Variety of Cultural Events including a Fashion show, Performance, Story Garden, Video, etc...

To register for the event, send an e-mail to
For more detailed information see our website at

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Eun-guk's Declaration of Conscientious Objection

All South Korean male citizens are conscripted to perform military service for 2 years. While most people reluctantly succumb to the extreme state and social pressure to serve, a small but increasingly vocal number of individuals are choosing go to prison instead of joining the military. For adhering to their principles, they are punished with a prison sentence of a year and a half, a permanent criminal record, and social stigma. There is currently no alternative option given to those who object to serving in the military.

There are 450 objectors now in prison. Their reasons for objection are varied. While the majority of them have religious reasons (mostly Jehovah's witnesses) others have political or moral beliefs and are active in the peace movement that has been growing during the last several years in Korea.

Eun-gook (Eun-guk/은국), a traditional Korean medicine doctor, is one peace activist who declared his objection last February. His declaration was made during a press conference in Seoul on the day he was supposed to enlist.

In March 2003, Eun-guk was involved in one of the anti-war peace activist groups in Iraq where the United States proclaimed war and the Korean government decided to dispatch Korean soldiers. Since then, Eun-gook kept thinking about objecting to his conscription for the last 6 years.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Riot Police Turned CO

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that a conscripted young man who objected to military service based on his conscience on 27 July 2008, received an order four times to join in order to disperse protestors, which he has refused. Based on this fact, the prosecutor who pleaded for an arrest warrant with detention, which was earlier dismissed, has again pleaded for it and the detention of the young man has been decided.


Mr. Lee Gil-jun, 24 years old, held a press conference at 7pm on 27 July 2008 and declared that he objected serving as an auxiliary police - a type of duty of national defense. He received a special holiday for three days due to his duty to suppress people taking part in the candlelit rallies.

He claims in his statement that he received orders from his commander to hit protestors with the shield and batons, in order to disperse them during recent ongoing protest. He had to return to Jung Lang Police Station, Seoul at 8pm on July 25 but instead he held a sit-in protest. On July 31, he voluntarily returned to the police station with thoughts that even though he violated the current law he had made this decision from his conscience.

When the prosecutor's office pleaded for an arrest warrant with detention, charging him with not returning to the police on time and for defamation, a court decided not to issue an arrest warrant without detention based on the fact that there is no worry of him running away or destruction of evidence. After the court decision, he was forced to return to the police station on August 2.

Then at the police station, knowing Mr. Lee objected military service based on his conscious, his commander ordered him to join with his colleagues to disperse people holding assemblies. The commander asked him to follow the order in a serious tone four times but Mr. Lee repeatedly refused the order. Based on this fact the prosecutor once again pleaded for an arrest warrant with detention from a court on August 5, after adding one more charge of his disobeying order.

On August 8, the court issued an arrest warrant with detention saying that Mr. Lee has refused to follow the order from his commander and there is a concern of repetition of the offence. It also added that there is also concern on his running away in the light of his repetition of disobeying an order.

Unofficial translated version

[Declaration of Conscience] I Resist!

July 27th 2008 / Lee Gil-jun

I, a conscripted policeman on active service, declare a conscientious objection to the military, and refuse to rejoin my unit. It was definitely not an easy decision. It was difficult for me to imagine all the pain and suffering it would bring, especially what my parents would have to go through. But here I am, still screaming resistance. It all sounds quite serious. But I'm not doing this to serve a greater cause. I'm just going through a process of finding myself, and trying to have a voice in my own life.

Yes. Resistance, to me, is a way to lead my life with my own subjectivity. Listening to your inner voice, having the values you believe to be right, adding colors to enrich your life and co-existing with others in harmony are all things that would be meaningful to just about anyone. And in the process, if something should suppress your life, you face it and resist it. That, I believe, is the way to live your life with passion. So now, I shed my old self, the one who has adapted to the ways of suppression, and move on to find myself through resistance.

This past February, I enrolled in the army as a conscripted policeman. I understand the many criticisms about this decision, especially regarding the actions I'm taking now. Although I oppose the idea of compulsory military service, if I had to serve my own society, I wanted to do something that is truly meaningful to society and myself. After giving it much thought, the path I chose was to join the conscripted police. But it turned out to be far different from what I had expected. Some people might criticize me and say I'm not being responsible for my own decision, but I don't think that takes away my right to object to unjust orders.

(full version)