South Korea: Conscientious objectors lodge appeal with U.N.

A total of 50 Korean men who have refused to perform military service duty citing their belief that they deny all violence, recently petitioned to a United Nations agency, saying the government persecuted them in violation of a U.N. convention, court officials have said.

The conscientious objectors, who have been convicted by the local Supreme Court, filed a petition with the United Nations Human Rights Committee. They 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.

Korea became a signatory in 1990, but has not fully adopted the pledges, citing national security as its reason. In 2005, the National Human Rights Commission also recommended the government adopt an alternative military service system, in which the objectors will be able to fulfill social services for a longer period of time than the regular military service. The UNHRC in 2006, 2010 and 2011 advised the government to erase the draft-dodging criminal records of the conscientious objectors and implement a rule that respects their rights.

Still, about 16,000 men here, mostly following religious beliefs, have been imprisoned for refusing mandatory military conscription over the past 60 years. As of January this year, 731 are in prison.

“It means that Koreans comprise more than 90 percent of the imprisoned conscientious objectors worldwide,” said Oh Du-jin, a lawyer who filed the petition for the objectors, told The Korea Herald.

“We know that the government may not retract its stance. But it will be a good opportunity to raise awareness of the issue at home and abroad once again,” he added.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldm.com)

Source: Korea Herald, 26 March 2012
http://www.koreaherald.com/national/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20120326000842