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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
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 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.

AppleAndroid