South Korea: National Human Rights Commission recommends recognition of the right to conscientious objection

On 15 December 2005, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea released its recommendation on the national human rights action plan of Korea. The 130 pages document deals with a variety of issues, but among others it recommends "that conscientious objection to military service should be allowed to ensure individual rights to religion and freedom, and that the alternatives to military service should be adopted". The recommendation came as a small surprise, as both the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court rejected the right to conscientious objection as recently as summer 2004 (see co-update No 1, September 2004). Consequently, the Ministry of Defence responsed negatively to the recommendation: "The ministry cannot accept the decision even if the commission finally decides to acknowledge conscientious objection."

"The ministry might be able to consider approval when tension between North and South Korea eases and if military human resources are plentiful, and the general public agrees to the idea", so a Ministry of Defence official according to the Korean newspaper JoongAng Daily on 15 December 2005.

According to the website of Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection, there are presently 1186 conscientious objectors in Korean prisons, mostly serving prison sentences of 18 month. Two cases of Korean conscientious objectors are presently pending in front of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Sources: www.corights.net, The Korea Times, 27 December 2005, JoongAng Daily, 15 December 2005.