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War Resisters' International visit to South Korea

In March 2012, two representatives of War Resisters' International visited Seoul in South Korea for meetings with World Without War, the South Korean organisation of conscientious objectors. While the main purpose of the visit was a 2-day workshop with activists from World Without War on strategies for the right to conscientious objection, the visit was also filled with other activities.

The first public activity was a press conference near the South Korea National Assembly, focused on the right to conscientious objection. This was followed on the same day in the evening with a public meeting, which included a presentation by a representative of World Without War, a recently dismissed judge, and Andreas Speck of War Resisters' International.

The strategy workshop started from the assumption that for the conscientious objection movement there is now a need to explore other options to achieve the recognition of the right to conscientious objection than just legal ones, following last year's decision of the South Korean Constitutional Court (see CO-Update No 68, September 2011). These might range from political lobbying to provocative nonviolent direct action, or non-cooperation with military authorities.

Many activists had high hopes for the South Korean National Assembly elections, hoping that the opposition would gain a majority of seats in the assembly, and thus making it easier to pass a law recognising conscientious objection. However, the governing party gained an absolute majority of seats - 152 of the 300 seats - squashing the hopes of many conscientious objection activists.
Meanwhile, a further 50 South Korean conscientious objector recently petitioned to the UN Human Rights Committee, saying the government persecuted them in violation of article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), court officials have said.

The conscientious objectors, who have been convicted by the local Supreme Court, argue that the Korean government has violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees an individual’s right to life and freedom of religion among other rights.

They also claimed that while the international treaty prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, they have been imprisoned since the beginning of their ordeal.

The WRI visit to South Korea also included a visit to two imprisoned conscientious objectors, Myungjin Moon, who also worked as an intern in the WRI office from January to March 2009, and Sangwoo Kang, who acted as a translator during the 15 May 2009 events in Seoul. Both are presently serving their 18 months in prison, but will be released in the next months.

WRI's visit was overshadowed by two other major events: the construction of a South Korean naval base on Jeju island, and the resistance to it (see The Broken Rifle No 91, April 2012), and the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. The were vigils and demonstration linked to both events, in which members of World Without War and WRI participated.

Sources: Korea Herald: South Korea: Conscientious objectors lodge appeal with U.N., 26 March 2012; Korea Herald: 19th National Assembly election results map, 12 April 2012