International Conscientious Objection Day


Every year, 15th May marks International Conscientious Objection Day (CO day) - a day to celebrate those who have, and those who continue, to resist war, especially by refusing to be part of military structures.

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The South Korean conscientious objection movement is still very young. It only dates back to the year 2000, when human rights organisations for the first time organised to highlight the fate of Jehovah's Witnesses, who had gone to prison for their conscientious objection since 1939. Since then, more than 10,000 Jehovah's Witnesses had gone to prison for their objection to military service, and many conscripts and also political prisoners had been aware of this, but it did not enter public consciousness. This changed in 2000, and in December 2001 a new movement for conscientious objection was born when Oh Tae-yang, a pacifist and Buddhist, declared his conscientious objection.


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Welcome to this edition of The Broken Rifle, focusing on the situ­ation of conscientious objectors in South Korea. This is not the first time War Resisters' International produced an issue on South Korea – the last time we did so was for Prisoners for Peace Day 2003. At that time, about 750 con­scientious objectors were serving prison sentences for their con­scientious objection.

by Dongjoo Ko

On 11 October 2005, I called the Military Manpower Administration and told them that I would not be enlisting. Instead a few days later, on 19 October, I announced my conscientious objection to the military through a press conference . My grounds for refusing the military were based on my conscience, Catholic faith and a firm belief that the military do not bring peace.

Yongsuk Lee

It is only recently that the term "nonviolent direct action" appeared in Korean society. Still, there are many misunderstandings about nonviolence and many people find direct action as a way of protest bizarre. Conservative media suggest that while nonviolent direct action had its place during the dictatorship, it is not legitimate in a democracy. However, after last year's candlelight rallies against the government decision to import US beef, the call for nonviolence is now better known in Korean society.

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