News / Asia

Conscientious Objectors Call for End to South Korea's Military Conscription Law

South Korean Navy Patrol Combat Corvettes conducts anti-submarine exercise at off the western coast town of Taean, 27 May 2010
South Korean Navy Patrol Combat Corvettes conducts anti-submarine exercise at off the western coast town of Taean, 27 May 2010
TEXT SIZE - +
Jason Strother

South Korea's military remains on heightened alert following North Korea's threats to launch all-out war. Pyongyang disputes the results of an international investigation that found it responsible for the sinking of the South Korean navy ship. Despite the tensions, there are many in South Korea pushing to change its conscription law, to allow conscientious objectors to avoid obligatory military service.

30-year-old Catholic newspaper reporter Go Dong-ju says his faith is an important part of his life and is the reason he has refused to serve in the South Korean military. That decision got Go sent to jail for a year and a half.

Go met a lot of other conscientious objectors while in jail. Most were Jehovah's Witnesses, 70 to 80 of them, and a few others were not religious but did not want to go to the army.

But not everyone here who avoids mandatory military does so on religious or moral grounds.

Some athletes and entertainers make headlines here for faking disabilities that disqualify them from serving. Recently members of a break-dancing troupe were arrested for pretending to have mental disorders.

Nearly 1,000 men were arrested for avoiding military service last year, according to South Korea's National Police Agency. Despite calls from a United Nations human rights committee, South Korea does not exempt conscientious objectors from military duty. It does, however, allow some to serve in non-combat roles as soldiers in the military.

Choi Jung-min, from the group Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection, hopes the government eventually will change the conscription law.  South Korea needs a strong military, said Choi, but adds the army is operating on a 60-year-old model. Choi believes her country does not need such a big military and, more importantly, that service should be voluntary.

Some security experts agree.  

As the South Korean military adopts more high-tech systems, there is a growing need for professionally trained troops who go on longer tours of duty says Daniel Pinkston, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Seoul.

"Under the current conditions where everyone has to serve for a short term, for some of these systems, that's not really enough time to become highly skilled, professionals," Pinkston said. "You need a core of non-commissioned officers and career officers to operate these types of systems."

Military advisers to the South Korean president agree that reform is needed, but doing away with a conscript army is not an option. Currently, South Korea has an active duty military of about 600,000. Neighboring North Korea has more than one million troops in uniform, and hundreds of thousands of reservists.

Hong Doo-seung serves on a defense panel that was formed in response to Pyongyang's sinking of a South Korean navy ship in March. He said if conscription ended then the military would not represent the entire population.  Men from the upper class would not volunteer for service. According to Hong, 85 percent of conscripted soldiers are college educated, which he said is a great resource for the South Korean military, when compared to other volunteer armies.

However, many young men from wealthy or prominent families avoid service by extending their enrollment in foreign universities and by obtaining foreign citizenship or residency.

Hong does not think draft dodgers hurt the military's capabilities, but they do set a bad example, adding that service is still a rite of passage for men and career options are limited for those who do not fulfill their duty.

Conscientious objector Go Dong-Ju says he has had a hard time fitting in with others who have completed their military service and some older Koreans look down on him. He also has had difficulty applying for foreign visas because he has a criminal record for avoiding the draft. Although he does not regret refusing to serve, he would not recommend it to everyone, said Go.  A person must be able to endure jail time and understand that he may be labeled a criminal for the rest of his life.  

He said he understands that ending the conscription law will be difficult, especially now with the rise in tensions on the Korean peninsula. But Go hopes there can be some compromise or alternative so that conscientious objectors do not have to go to jail.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid