News release: Campaigners call for the release of over 600 conscientious objectors imprisoned in South Korea


Contact Hannah Brock on +44-20-7278 4040 and

Today marks International Conscientious Objection day. Worldwide, 92% of all conscientious objectors imprisoned for refusing obligatory military service are in the Republic of Korea (South Korea). An international campaign is calling for their release and the recognition of the right to conscientious objection everywhere.

South Korea imprisons more people for their conscientious objection (CO) than the rest of the world put together. The country has held at least 10,000 COs in prison since 2000 for their refusal of military service. War Resisters’ International, along with human rights group Amnesty International and German and Korean groups Connection and World Without War, are calling on the South Korean authorities to release all imprisoned conscientious objectors and recognise conscientious objection to military service as a human right. A petition has been launched which will be submitted to the Korean Ministry of National Defence in December.

Military service remains compulsory for South Korean men and most are conscripted in their early 20s. Length of conscription ranges from 21 to 24 months, and once completed they are obliged to be part of the reserves for the following eight years.

Many COs refuse because of their pacifism and rejection of war and conscription for everyone.

Yeook Yang, from antimilitarist group World Without War, says "In a highly militarised society where any discussion on the military is taboo, conscientious objectors are making it clear that the military exists only to kill."

Most COs in South Korea are Jehovah’s Witnesses. As Song In-ho, 26, who objects to military service for religious reasons, says: “All of the men who are born in families of Jehovah’s Witnesses - myself included - are basically criminals from their mother’s womb”.

15th May have been used for three decades as a joint day of action by campaigners against war and for CO rights around the world.

Notes for editors

  • Over 613 conscientious objectors to military service are currently in prison in South Korea.

  • War Resisters’ International was founded in 1921. We are an international antimilitarist and pacifist network, with over 80 affiliated groups in 40+ countries around the world. We hold to our founding principles that ‘War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war, and to strive for the removal of all causes of war.’

  • The United Nations Human Rights Committee has made clear that conscientious objection is protected as an inherent part of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - to which South Korea is a state party - and that States must provide for conscientious objectors.

  • Information about the petition can be found on our website:

  • Contact Hannah Brock on +44-20-7278 4040 and

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