Leaders of civil and human rights groups and lawmakers of the Democratic Party hold a press conference calling for swift legislation regarding alternative military service for conscientious objectors on Aug. 5 at the National Assembly. (Kim Gyoung-ho
Liberty Korea Party (LKP) lawmakers announced that they have submitted to an amendment bill to the Military Service Act that would have conscientious objectors serve 44 months in alternative military service programs, carrying out duties like mine clearance. This is a form of retaliatory punishment against conscientious objectors that is anachronistic and in violation of human rights.
Saying that alternative military service laws should not be overly accommodating of conscientious objectors, LKP lawmaker Kim Hak-yong proposed on Aug. 21 long-term, high intensity alternative military service programs. In fact, on Aug. 14, Kim submitted to the National Assembly an amendment to the Military Service Act that would set the length of alternative military service at twice that of active duty army conscripts, and would primarily task conscientious objectors with “peace advancement” duties such as mine clearance.
Twenty-five LKP and independent lawmakers such as Yoon Sang-hyun, Chong Jong-sup, Lee Ju-young, Hwang Young-cheul, Cho Kyoung-tae, and Shin Bo-ra participated in the proposal.
These lawmakers claim that because these alternative service members reject conscription on grounds of nonviolence and pacifism, it is befitting for them to specialize in the removal of lethal weapons such as landmines. This is little more than a spurious justification. Tasking alternative service members with a job like mine clearance, which requires a high level of training, is no different from punishing them. International human rights bodies such as the United Nations recommend that alternative military service take place in the civilian sector.
Bareunmirae Party lawmaker Ha Tae-kyung immediately criticized the proposal as an “infantile, anti-human rights scheme.” The Ministry of National Defense also said that with demining robots that have been developed to ensure the safety of soldiers nearing implementation, it is unrealistic to assign alternative military service members to the job. Addressing the parliamentary National Defense Committee, Defense Minister Song Young-moo said that “The Agency for Defense Development is reviewing methods for efficiently removing landmines.”
Taking into consideration potential grievances of active duty conscripts as well as the possibility of draft dodging, it may be worth reviewing measures to sensibly extend the term of alternative military service. The Ministry of National Defense has said that it is examining a measure to fix the alternative military service term at 36 months, twice that of the 18 month term aimed to be implemented for active duty infantry by 2020.
However, whether it is necessary to set the alternative military service term to twice the length of active duty service must be prudently decided by means of a broad consensus. Here it is necessary to take note of comments made by Lee Sung-ho, chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, who said, “There are claims that alternative military service members should be assigned to mine clearance duty or should serve twice as long, but these do not accord with international standards.” Whatever the case may be, we must avoid implementing alternative military service as a form of “punishment.”
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