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PSPD    People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

  • Peace/Disarmament
  • 2004.05.22
  • 605
A court has found young men not guilty for conscientious objection to military conscription.

Judge Yi Jeong Ryeol of the Seoul Southern District Court found three Jehovah's Witnesses not guilty of violating laws on military conscription, judging that "the decision to refuse military service was made entirely on the basis of conscience, and when that qualifies as freedom of conscience as protected by the constitution it is just grounds." This is an extremely significant decision in that it opens new ground in the freedom of conscience, in addition to going beyond the "formalized" judgments usual for such cases.

The constitutional clause about an individual's "obligation of national defense" and guarantee of freedom of conscience have been in conflict for conscience objectors. But during the era of military dictatorships and authoritarianism you couldn't even discuss the idea that the constitution was conflicting, and the result was that men were punished severely for being draft dodgers or the crime of mutiny. Even this very moment there are approximately 500 conscientious objectors in prison. In the international community, however, conscientious objection has long been accepted as a strictly civil rights issue, and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights recently passed a resolution calling for the right to refuse military service on such grounds. One should take particular note of how the court cited the fact that Korea is a signatory nation to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which stipulates, "no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice," because that should mean the National Security Law (NSL) comes next.

It is clear that conscientious objection will now become an issue of social debate. The need is for productive discussion that avoids the prejudice and simplistic logic about it being "ruinous" for the nation. The Military Manpower Administration says the not guilty verdict will lead to people abusing "conscious" for draft evasion and so will continue to refuse the right to reject conscription on such grounds. It is missing the point. It should quit insisting on dated standards out of touch with changed times and actively work to create a system that would allow for alternative service without the "negative side effects."

The Hankyoreh, 22 May 2004.

[Translations by Seoul Selection. (PMS)]

http://www.hani.co.kr/section-001100000/2004/05/001100000200405220304001.html
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