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
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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid