Human Rights Commission calls conscientious objection a “universal human right”

Posted on : 2016-12-14 16:55 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Commission currently calling on Constitutional Court to recognize right to objection, and for military service alternatives
Hong Jeong-hun
Hong Jeong-hun

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) announced on Dec. 13 that it had decided to submit an opinion to the Constitutional Court finding punishment of conscientious objectors to mandatory military service a violation of freedom of conscience as a universal human right.

The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing three appeals on recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military service.

“The act of refusing military service based on conscience and objections to war and killing is a universal human right guaranteed to all people,” the NHRCK said.

“It is possible to resolve the duty of national defense and freedom of conscience in a harmonious way through an alternative service system,” it ruled.

“Respect for decisions based on conscience is a key element of a democratic society that pursues diversity, and the state should maximally guarantee individuals freedom of conscience so long as it does not pose serious harm to maintaining the basic order of a democratic society,” it added.

The NHRCK recommended a system of alternative military service to the National Assembly Speaker and Minister of National Defense in 2005, arguing that the right to conscientious objection represented freedom of conscience as protected by the Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 2008, it urged the Minister of National Defense to formulate plans for alternative service by conscientious objectors.

“The government has yet to establish an alternative service system for conscientious objectors, and while some have been found not guilty in lower courts, the judiciary continues punishing conscientious objectors criminally,” the commission noted.

Meanwhile, Hong Jeong-hun, staff of People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, held a press conference at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square on Dec. 13 to announce his own conscientious objection to military service.

“The only non-violent means of resisting a military that internalizes violence is by refusing military service,” Hong said.

Attendees at the press conference called for the release of all 399 conscientious objectors currently imprisoned, acknowledgement of the right to conscientious objection, and institution of an alternative system, noting that South Korea accounts for 92% of the world‘s prisoners incarcerated for conscientious objection.

By Ahn Young-chun, staff reporter

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