On 18 September 2007, the Ministry of National Defense of the Republic of Korea announced its intention to promote legislative and other measures with a view to permitting alternative services for conscientious objectors on religious and other grounds. In South Korea, a male who is and over the age of nineteen years is obliged to serve the military for a specified period. There are some 750 persons who refuse to do so every year, however, the majority of whom being subjected to imprisonment and other forms of criminal punishment, according to the press release issued by the Ministry.
The Ministry intends to allow conscientious objectors on religious and other grounds to choose alternative services under the social service system, limiting their options to difficult social services, such as caring elders with dementia or persons with severe disabilities who require 24-hour care. Conscientious objectors will be required to stay in facilities where alternative services are provided and to serve for some 36 months, almost twice as long as the conscription period of regular soldiers.
The opposition Grand National Party and the Korea Veterans Association immediately expressed opposition to the government policy. On the other hand, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea welcomed the Ministry's announcement on the same day, stating that the policy is "closer to the universal human rights standards accepted by the international community" and that it "adequately reflects the purpose of the Commission's recommendation in December 2005 on the introduction of an alternative service system". While the Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection (KSCO) and other civil society organizations also welcomed the measure, the Co-Executive Chairperson of the KSCO called for the review of the specified period, pointing out that the period for alternative services longer than the one for regular soldiers by one and half times is regarded as punishment under the United Nations standards.
The Ministry of National Defense intends to define how the relevant legislation should be amended through opinion polls and public hearings and on the basis of the people's support. The Conscription Law and other pieces of the relevant legislation will be amended on a step-by-step basis by the end of the year 2008 and come into force in 2009. There are many issues that should be considered, however, including the criteria for determining the status of conscientious objectors to whom permission is given for alternative services. Public opinion is also divided, which will make the process difficult.
Source: Press release, the Ministry of National Defense of the Republic of Korea, 18 September 2007 [Korean]
Press release, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 18 September 2007 [Korean] http://www.humanrights.go.kr/english/activities/view_01.jsp (Oct. 5, 2007)