South Korea: Constitutional Court decides against right to conscientious objection

The South Korean Constitutional Court ruled against conscientious objectors on 26 August 2004. This ruling is in line with an earlier ruling of the Supreme Court from 15 July, in which the court stated that "individual freedom of conscience can't be more important than accepting calls of duty for the defense of their own country". The court said seeking freedom of conscience as a member of society can only be admitted when the person follows the rules that others follow. All Korean men have their duty to defend this nation, but conscientious objectors refuse to fulfill the obligation, it added.

With this two rulings, the legal avenue is now closed. While there is still the option to present a CO case as individual complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee, the Korean CO activists are now preparing for a long political struggle to achieve the right to conscientious objection. Every year about 800 conscientious objectors - the majority Jehovah's Witnesses - recieve prison sentences of 18 months for refusing to serve.

Sources: Korea Times, 26 August 2004, Korea Herald, 16 July 2004; Korea Times, 16 July 2004