Two South Korean conscientious objectors, Mr Myung-Jin Choi and Mr Yeo-Bum Yoon, brought their case to the United Nations in an individual complaint under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The two individual complaints are the last legal means available to conscientious objectors in South Korea, after both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court rules against the right to conscientious objection on 15 July and 26 August 2004 (see CO-Update No 1). The two COs complain that their right to conscientious objection, derived from Article 18 of the ICCPR (Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion) is being violated.
Both, the Korean Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court rejected the claim that conscientious objection is a human right, and gave the opinion that "national security" is of more importance than an individual's human right. As of 30 June 2004, 436 conscientious objectors were in prison in South Korea, but almost 280 cases were pending, because cases had been placed on hold to await the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. Korean human rights lawyers expect that the number of CO's in prison will rise to more than 1,000 by the end of 2004.
The two Korean cases will be of importance well beyond South Korea.
Source: Communication from Suk-Tae Lee, lawyer of Myung-Jin Choi and Yeo-Bum Yoon.
Background information: Briefing paper on conscientious objection and human rights issues in the Republic of Korea, April 2004.
English translations of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court decision are available from the WRI office on request.