Yongsuk Lee: Without question, were I to face call-up again, I would again object to military service. However, at the same time, I don't ever want to be put into prison again."
At the time of writing this appeal, more than 450 conscientious objectors are serving prison sentences of usually 18 months in South Korea. Since 1939 more than 15,000 conscientious objectors have been to prison in the country, which up still does not recognise the right to conscientious objection.
A South Korean Conscientious Objection movement was not formed until 2000, but since then it has worked in close cooperation with War Resisters' International. This has included visits to Korea by WRI staff and activists, providing training or participating in conferences. Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection (KSCO), WRI's Korean partner, as well as participating regularly in WRI events, has twice sent members to work as volunteers in the international office. Also in 2005, KSCO organised WRI's annual seminar and council in Seoul.
War Resisters' International has also assisted the Korean movement in achieving some major successes:
a reduction of the usual punishment from three years to 18 months. Under the present legal situation, this is the minimum punishment which will lead to a discharge from the military, and therefore avoid a new call-up;
conscientious objectors are no longer tried by military courts, but by civilian courts;
a ground breaking decision of the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the right to conscientious objection to military service, clearly stating that not to provide for conscientious objection is a violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
a recommendation of the South Korean National Human Rights Commission to recognise the right to conscientious objection;
Eun-gook held a press conference and declared his conscientious objection, on 19 Feb 2009. Photo : World Without War
The documentation: Documentation on conscientious objection in South Korea, available for download
In 2007, the Ministry of Defence of South Korea even announced that it would introduce the right to conscientious objection and a substitute service. However, with the change of government in 2008 this announcement is today no longer being honoured.
For 15 May 2009 – International Conscientious Objectors' Day – War Resisters' International therefore decided to bring the situation in South Korea to international attention, and to increase the pressure on the Korean government to recognise the right to conscientious objection.
We ask you to support our efforts to support conscientious objectors. Please considering writing a letter protesting at South Korea's failure to recognise conscientious objection to:.
President Lee Myung-bak, 1 Cheongwadae-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea, email: email@example.com
Conscientious Objection Campaigning Worker atWar Resisters International Web Page
Koreans Protest Against US Beef, June 2008