15 May 2009: International Conscientious Objection Day - Focus on South Korea



Since the 1980s, 15 May is celebrated as International Conscientious
Objectors' Day [1]. Originally coordinated by the International Conscientious Objectors' Meeting (ICOM), War Resisters' International stepped in to coordinate and promote International Conscientious Objectors' Day since ICOM
ceased to meet ever since ICOM 1995 in Chad. As part of WRI's programme on The
Right to Refuse to Kill [2], War Resisters' International helped to established a tradition of international nonviolent direct action on 15 May in support of a
certain CO struggle, accompanied by decentralised activities all over the world since 2002. Focus countries or region of the last years were the Balkans in 2002 [3],
Israel in 2003 [4], Chile/Latin America in 2004 [5], Greece in 2005 [6], the United States of America in 2006 [7],
Colombia in 2007 [8], and the theme of CO and professional soldiers in 2008 [9].

For 2009, War Resisters' International and Korea Solidarity for
Conscientious Objection agreed to make the situation in South Korea
the focus for international activities.

Why South Korea?

Since its foundation in 2001, the South Korean movement for conscientious
objection has seen some successes, but has not yet achieved the recognition of the right to conscientious objection. Some of the major successes of the South Korean CO movement were:

  • a reduction of the usual prison term for conscientious objectors from 3 years to 18 months;
  • a decision of the United Nations' Human Rights Committee on two cases of COs from South Korea, declaring the non-recognition of the right to conscientious objection a violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (Article 18 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) [10]
  • a recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission of South
    Korea to recognise the right to conscientious objection [11]
  • an announcement of the Minister of Defence to recognise the right to conscientious objection (September 2007) [12]

However, with the change of government in January 2008 the announcement of the
Minister of Defence to recognise the right to conscientious objection
is no longer valid. Presently, the South Korean government is
employing a delaying tactic [13], and it will require more pressure on the government to achieve progress regarding the right to conscientious objection.

Presently, more than 420 conscientious objectors are in South Korean for their
conscientious objection to military service. About 100 conscientious objectors are facing trials without being detained. It has to be expected that most will receive a prison sentence of 18 months.

While the majority of conscientious objectors are Jehovah's Witnesses,
there is also a non-religious movement of conscientious objectors,
organised and supported by Korea Solidarity for Conscientious
Objection. Four non-religious conscientious objectors are presently
serving prison sentences [14]


  • Raising international awareness for the situation of conscientious objectors in South Korea, who routinely face 18 months imprisonment.
  • Linking the issue of conscientious objection in South Korea with nonviolent resistance and nonviolent direct action as a tool for social change movements.
  • Exchange of experience in nonviolent direct action and campaigning for the right to conscientious objection among groups from South Korea and abroad.
  • Strengthening international networking of conscientious objectors through joint training and action.

Planned activities

While the planned activities focus on International Conscientious Objection
Day - 15 May 2009 - and the period immediately before 15 May,
these activities do not stand alone. In fact, War Resisters'
International and Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection have a
cooperation going back to 2000 and before (see below).

International Nonviolence Training and action, Seoul, 10-15 May 2009

Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection and War Resisters'
International jointly organise an international training in
nonviolent action, in Seoul, as the centre piece of the activities
for 15 May 2009.

The international training in nonviolent action will bring together 40-50
participants from South Korea and other parts of the world, who will
jointly use the training to share practical tools for nonviolent
action. The training will also prepare for a joint nonviolent action
on 15 May - International Conscientious Objectors' Day - in

The training will be facilitated by a training team from KSCO and WRI,
and will cover topics such as the development of nonviolent
campaigns, preparing for action, dealing with police, decision making
in campaigning groups and during an action, and others.

The experience of War Resisters' International in previous years has
shown that a joint training is a good way to increase the understanding of each others contexts and political experiences, and contributes to the development of an international network of
conscientious objectors.

International Conference on Conscientious Objection, 16 May 2009

The international activities will culminate with an international
conference on conscientious objection in Seoul on Saturday, 16 May
2009. This international conference aims to share the experience of
conscientious objection movement from different parts of the world
with a broader audience in Seoul, and to attract media attention. It
will contribute to strengthening the case for the right to
conscientious objection in South Korea.

[1] Rudi
Friedrich: History of Conscientious Objectors' Day, Broken Rifle
No 55, May 2002,
page 8

[2] http://www.wri-irg.org/co/rrk-en.htm

[3] http://www.wri-irg.org/news/2002/press15may02.htm

[4] http://www.wri-irg.org/pubs/br58-en.htm

[5] http://www.wri-irg.org/pubs/br61-en.htm

[6] http://wri-irg.org/news/2005/icod05full-en.htm

[7] CO-Update
No 20, May 2006, http://wri-irg.org/node/870

[8] http://wri-irg.org/pubs/br74-en.htm

[9] CO-Update
No 39, May/June 2008, http://wri-irg.org/node/1392

[10] CO-Update
No 27, February 2007, http://wri-irg.org/node/1034

[11] CO-Update
No 17, February 2006, http://wri-irg.org/node/807

[12] CO-Update
No 33, October 2007, http://wri-irg.org/node/1251

[13] CO-Update
No 42, October 2008, http://wri-irg.org/node/2272

[14] http://wri-irg.org/programmes/pfp,
accessed 11 December 2008

Programmes & Projects

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