Protesters demand the government stop penalizing conscientious objectors and roll out alternative service at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul on International Conscientious Objection Day, May 15, 2017. (Yonhap)
The first group of conscientious objectors began their 36-month alternative service at a Daejeon jail on Monday, following a landmark court ruling two years ago that obliged the parliament to roll out such a program.
South Korea conscripts all able-bodied men for about two years to maintain defense readiness against North Korea.
A total of 63 objectors entered the correctional institution on Monday for three weeks of nonmilitary training. Upon completion of the program, they will be assigned to correctional institutions in Daejeon and Mokpo where their day-to-day responsibilities will include maintenance and sanitation.
Like Army conscripts, participants in the program will be housed in groups near their assigned facilities and will take periodic vacations and leave, as well as receive the same wages.
Alternative service marks a major departure from the country’s 67-year history of criminalizing people who refused conscription.
Applicants have to demonstrate a “genuine and sincere” religious faith or personal belief in nonviolence. Those citing religious faith as grounds are expected to account for the vast majority of participants in the program.
A 29-member government committee comprising lawyers and rights experts decides who qualifies for admission. Applicants can petition the government’s independent appeals commission or the court to reverse the committee’s ruling.
“We will do our best to ensure harmony between respecting the civic duty and minority rights,” said Mo Jong-hwa, head of the Military Manpower Administration in charge of conscription.
By Choi Si-young (firstname.lastname@example.org