Little progress in coming up with alternative service for conscientious objectors

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : Aug 18, 2019 - 16:30
  • Updated : Aug 18, 2019 - 16:30

Over a year has passed since the Constitutional Court addressed the need to come up with an alternative form of service for conscientious objectors, but little progress has been made at the National Assembly.

According to the Military Manpower Administration on Sunday, as of late July 498 people had submitted applications to defer enlistment, citing religious beliefs. Previously, the authorities had uniformly charged conscientious objectors under the Military Service Act. But since the Constitutional Court ruling in June last year, the MMA has been granting deferments to those who provide evidence of their religious beliefs.

Human rights activists protest South Korea`s current legal system where no civilian alternative is offered to the military service, in central Seoul last year. (Yonhap)

Under the Military Service Act, all able-bodied South Korean men aged 18 to 38 are required to serve in the military. Those who refuse can face jail terms of up to three years.

In the past five years, 2,147 objectors have been indicted under the act, of whom 1,202 were found guilty and 26 acquitted, according to the MMA. Another 919 are still awaiting trial or in the process of being tried.

Last June, the court ruled Article 5 of the Military Service Act unconstitutional, as it did not provide for any form of alternative service for conscientious objectors.

The ruling also ordered legislators to come up with a new law or amend the existing law to introduce an alternative form of service, setting a deadline of Dec. 31, 2019. The court also said Article 5 would become invalid as of 2020, even if the lawmakers failed to meet the deadline.

The government and lawmakers have proposed some 10 bills that are still awaiting review, but there is concern that they may not be reviewed in time as the National Assembly remains idle because of unrelated issues.

The Defense Ministry believes an amendment to the law and a new law introducing alternative forms of service should be introduced by October at the latest.

One plan proposed by the government would require conscientious objectors to serve 36 months, about 1.5 times longer than most men serve in the military.

Under the proposal, applicants found to have legitimate reasons for refusing military service would serve in correctional facilities and take on roles that would not involve using weapons.

By Jo He-rim (