Korean Government cancelled Alternative Civilian Service
- Briefing paper on Conscientious Objection issues in the Republic of Korea





MIMBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society
Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection (KSCO)



Side event <Arbitrary Detention : The Latest Issues and Challenges>

Monday, 9 March 2009 13h - 15h

“Conscientious Objectors to Military Service”
Mr. Jae-chang Oh, MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society




Korean Government cancelled Alternative Civilian Service
Report to the United Nations Human Rights Council
10th Session (2-27 March 2009)
Item 3 ; WG Arbitrary Detention



Executive Summary


On September 18, 2007, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced plans to allow conscientious objectors to perform alternative civilian service, which was supposed to start in January 2009. In addition, at the Universal Periodic Review held in Geneva on May 7, 2008, Chief of Human Rights Division of MND confirmed the position of Korea to introduce alternative service for conscientious objectors. However, the Lee Myung-bak administration, which was not in favour of introducing the alternative service ever since he has been a candidate for the Korean presidential election, has altered its position. In late December of 2008, the Ministry of Defense released to the media the difficulty of implementing alternative service system, referring to a result of consensus conducted by the Military Manpower Administration (MMA). They had commissioned to look into the possibility to allow conscientious objectors to serve in non-military programs. However the study itself was flawed. As a result, presently, the issue of whether or not to provide alternative service for conscientious objectors is back to the beginning. Up until now, more than 15,000 have been imprisoned for their objection to military service since Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945 and in particular, more than 5,000 have gone through their imprisonment since 2000, the year when the issue of conscientious objection began to be discussed in public. Numbers of trials were suspended while waiting for the introduction of alternative service. However due to the current announcement of the government to cancel the alternative service system, the number of conscientious objectors in prison, which was reduced to 450, is expected to rise beyond 1,000.


Currently more and more cases of discharged servicemen refusing reserve military drills have been reported. However, their situation is worse than those of conscientious objectors. After finishing military service, one has to get the training for the reserved army for 8 years. If one refuses to be mustered for reserve drills, he either pays a fine of 5 million won (about 4,000 USD) or less, or gets sentenced up to 3 years in jail, according to Article 15, Clause 4 of the Establishment of Homeland Reserve Forces Act. Even after this punishment, the duty of getting training in the reserved army will be imposed repeatedly until the training period of 8 years ends. Actually even if one was punished because of refusal of the training, whenever one refuses it, the same punishment has been imposed over and over. Hence the fines are accumulated which becomes too much for an objector to pay and thus threatens his life.


At the moment, implementing alternative service for conscientious objectors seems to start from the scratch. Just last year there was a riot police who declared his conscientious objection to the military. He was mobilized to suppress the candlelight demonstrations, which was triggered by importing US beefs. His objection questioned the illogical system of conscripted riot police to be discussed in public. Nevertheless, he received more severe punishment of two-year imprisonment for his disobedience, than ordinary conscientious objectors who usually get 1 an half year’s imprisonment.


While the government overturned their plan, the ‘Presidential Commission on Suspicious Death in the Military in Korea’ released its decision on January 2009 that the Korean government is responsible for death of five Jehovah’s Witnesses who were illegally hauled and inducted by force into the army. Their death was result of “the state’s anti-human rights violence” and “its acts of brutality” in the 1970s and mid 1980s. However, the government did not make any comment on this matter. There have been changes in the judiciary practices regarding custody of conscientious objectors, where it started to make decisions to arrest conscientious objectors even before opening of their trial. This is contrary to the previous practice that conscientious objectors can attend their court hearings without being in custody. Despite the oppression from the government, around 400 conscientious objectors keep coming out per year to the world, which dare to choose to be in prison.






Table of Contents
Executive Summary...................................................................................... 3
1. Outline of Military Service Regulations……………...........................   .............. 5
2. Conscientious Objection to Military Service.................................................... 6
2-1. Korean Government cancelled alternative Civilian Service plans
2-2. Changing circumstances related with CO issues
2-3. Complaints pending in the UN human rights committee


1. Current Status of Conscientious Objectors in Prison................................. 13
2. Statement of the Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection ................ 29







List of Articles
번호 제목
6 Japanese 韓国の兵役拒否運動の現況と展望 file
5 English 2012, Conscientious Objection to Military Service |UNITED NATIONS PUBLICATION file
4 English 2011, The European Court of Human Rights: CASE OF BAYATYAN v. ARMENIA file
3 English 2009. Documentation on Conscientious Objection in South Korea | Published by: War Resisters' International and Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection file
» English 2009, Korean Government cancelled Alternative Civilian Service | Briefing paper on Conscientious Objection issues in the Republic of Korea file
1 English 2004, Briefing Paper on Conscientious Objection and Human Rights Issues in the Republic of Korea | 60th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights file

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