SOUTH KOREA: Conscientious objector Yoonjong Yoo begins serving 18 month prison sentence


War Resisters' International is concerned about the imprisonment of South Korean conscientious objector Yoonjong Yoo. After he declared his conscientious objection (see co-alert, 29 March 2012), he was trialed for violation of the country's military service law, and finally sentenced to the standard 18 months' imprisonment on 25 April 2012. On 30 April 2012, he reported to the Seoul Detention Centre to serve his sentence.

Yoonjong Yoo was supposed to enlist in the South Korean Armed Forces in November 2011, but declared his conscientious objection instead. In December 2011, he was questioned by police, and in January 2012 by the prosecution about his conscientious objection. A first trial hearing took place on 14 March 2012.

In his declaration of conscientious objection, Yoonjong Yoo wrote:

"I asked myself at what time I decide to become a conscientious objector. It was at the age of fifteen, when I started to develop a critical view of nationalism and totalitarianism. It began at school when they forced the uniform on me, forced me to have the same hairdo, provided a standardised education, and ignored individuals. I thought that the state exists for the people, and that the demands of the state to its citizens should be minimised. It is just weird to compel me to sacrifice myself or to demand acts of patriotism from me when I am not willing to do so, and do not agree. We are not accessories of the state."

Although South Korea is under an obligation to recognise the right to conscientious objection as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it has so far failed to do so. The United Nations Human Rights Committee recognised in a decision from January 2007 the right to conscientious objection as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, as guaranteed by Article 18 ICCPR. In fact, in this decision on two cases of conscientious objectors from South Korea, the Human Rights Committee stated that not to provide for the right to conscientious objection is a violation of Article 18 ICCPR (see CCPR/C/88/D/1321-1322/2004 from 23 January 2007). It came to similar conclusions again in 2010 and 2011, deciding on more than 100 individual complaints by conscientious objectors from South Korea. A further 50 complaints have been lodged with the Human Rights Committee recently.

However, in 2011 the Constitutional Court of South Korea again decided that there is no right to conscientious objection under South Korea's constitution. But this does not change South Korea's commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As a signatory to the ICCPR South Korea is under the obligation to recognise the right to conscientious objection - it is not a matter of choice.

As of December 2011, 810 conscientious objectors were serving prison sentences in South Korea, usually of 18 months.

War Resisters' International calls for letters of support to Yoonjong Yoo:
Yoonjong Yoo
Seoul Detention Centre
P.O. Box 20, Gunpo, Gyeonggi-do
South Korea 437-050

War Resisters' International calls for letters of protest to President Lee Myung-bak.
A protest email can be sent at

War Resisters' International calls for the immediate release of Yoonjong Yoo and of all other imprisoned conscientious objectors in South Korea, and the recognition of their right to conscientious objection.

Andreas Speck
War Resisters' International