The Korea Herald


Government considers 36 months in correctional facilities for alternative service

By Yeo Jun-suk

Published : Nov. 15, 2018 - 15:51

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The South Korean government is seeking to require 36 months of work in correctional facilities from those seeking alternative to military service, after the country’s top court recognized conscientious objection as a valid reason for rejecting mandatory military service.

While the Ministry of National Defense and the conscription agency have yet to finalize plans for an alternative service program, they said their preferred option is to involve conscientious objectors serving at correctional facilities for 36 months to help prison guards and other community work.

The government organizations said the number of those who can replace their mandatory military service with alternative duty will be limited to 600 every year. Their eligibility for the alternative service will be determined by an independent panel at the Defense Ministry.

“We put more emphasis on 36-month-long service rather than a 27-month-long plan,” a senior defense official told reporters on Wednesday after releasing a document that said the government is considering both options.
Activists protested against the government`s plan to impose 36 months for alternative military service last week. Yonhap Activists protested against the government`s plan to impose 36 months for alternative military service last week. Yonhap
The government is expected to finalize its plan for alternative service by the end of this year. If the government plan is determined, it is submitted to the National Assembly for parliamentary approval next year.

Every able-bodied man in South Korea is required to serve at least 21 months in the military between the ages of 18 and 28. The Military Service Act calls for up to three years in prison for those who refuse to serve, although most serve 18 months.

Some human rights groups and progressive activists criticized the government’s plan, saying 36 months is too long for an alternative service program, pointing to programs in other countries as examples.

“(The government plan) does not conform to international human rights standards due to its punitive measures,” the civic groups said in a letter sent to the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief at the United Nations.

While there is no internationally recognized standard for how long an alternative military service program should last, the UN Human Rights Committee says it should not be punitive in nature by imposing service period that far exceeds the length of mandatory service. 

The defense official said a 36-month program at detention facilities could prevent abuse of the system. The official pointed to existing alternative programs, in which some conscripts already serve for similar periods in medical and industrial sectors in lieu of conventional military service.

But the official added that the government could choose less service period at other public centers. The country’s top human rights watcher said in September that the alternative service program should not last more than 1.5 times the length of the current 21-month service.

“We believe that if the alternative service program lasts more than 1.5 times than the length of mandatory service, it could be deemed as punitive nature by the UN and other international organizations. In that regard, a 27-month plan is still an option,” the official said.

The government has sought to determine the ideal duration of an alternative service program since the Supreme Court ruled on Nov. 1 that conscientious objection is a valid reason to refuse to perform mandatory military service.

In June, the Constitutional Court ordered the government to introduce civilian forms of service for conscientious objectors. The court ruled that the Military Service Act was unconstitutional and demanded the government and lawmaker fix the law until the end of next year.