After months of discussions and public hearings,
South Korea’s Defense Ministry announced Friday, its alternative options for conscientious
objectors,… who refuse the nation’s mandatory military service of about 20 months. Under the plan, they will serve at correctional
facilities like prisons for 36 months,… starting from 2020, after the bill is put
to a vote at the parliament early next year. This has been one of the major issues regarding
the nation’s mandatory conscription for some time. Oh Soo-young sheds light on why such a plan
is long overdue. Since childhood, Seoul-based attorney Baek
Jong-keon was prepared to go to prison. As a Jehovah’s Witness, he spent six months
on trial and 14 months behind bars,… choosing to serve time rather than the country’s military. It was a choice that led to his bar registration
being cancelled and put his marriage on hold. But this year, Baek has been looking forward
to a brighter future for other conscientious objectors, many of whom he’s been trying to
release over the years. The supreme court last month made a historic
ruling recognizing conscience or religious beliefs as a justifiable reason to refuse
military duties. Only an estimated nine people remain in prison
for conscientious objection, down from the hundreds seen in recent years. “It’s as though our cloak of shame has been
removed. More than the time in prison, the social stigma
sticks the most — being perceived as a criminal and an evader of duty. Personally, I don’t think the length of alternative
service matters. It just shouldn’t be military-related. I hope we can contribute to social areas that
our fellow Koreans need. The constitutional court, in June this year,
called on the government to draft alternative means of service for conscientious objectors. But the conditions have been the subject of
heated debate. International observers have urged authorities
to ensure the alternative service isn’t punitive, calling for a maximum of around 27 months,…
or one-point-five times the length that the ROK army soldiers serve,… as well as allowing
commuting. “The human rights committee’s position from
1999 which is essentially that it should be essentially same length as military service
and any extra length needs to be based on objective and reasonable criteria so we hold
to that standard.” However, some local experts and members of
the public have expressed caution. “Given South Korea’s unique social and security
situation, one-point-five times the military service is widely considered short and lenient
compared to the daily hardships endured by conscripted men. This could undermine fairness, and even cause
a surge in the number of conscientious objectors. We can eventually reduce the alternative service
term, but we shouldn’t set the bar too low from the start.” A Gallup survey from 2016 shows most Koreans
do not sympathize with conscientious objection. However, seven in ten people believe an alternative
system is needed for the objectors. Oh Soo-young, Arirang News.