This International Conscientious Objection Day we're standing in solidarity with over 250 South Koreans in jail for their refusal to undertake military service. We call upon the South Korean government to recognise the rights of conscientious objectors, and stop sending them to prison. You can join us via various ways including sending your own postcards to South Korean embassies in your country or posting on social media with the hashtag #freeKoreanCOs (find out more about how to take part in this day here).
Below is a statement by WRI's South Korean affiliate World Without War explaining why we need to take action on this day and why supporting the rights of conscientious objectors contributes to peace on the peninsula.
World Without War: To make the most of the opportunity for peace, the right to conscientious objection must be recognised!
The Korean Peninsula is a place where strong militarism and different types of violence have existed for over seventy years since World War II. This violence and militarism exist primarily due to the Korean War and consequent division of the two Koreas.
An atmosphere of peace is being created on the Korean Peninsula for the first time in seventy years. Following the inter-Korean summit in April, the U.S.-North Korean summit will be held in May. South Koreans and world citizens who want peace hope that the recent truce agreement between the two Koreas will lead to a declaration to end the war. They hope, furthermore, for a peace treaty concluded between North and South Korea and a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons.
The signing of the peace treaty and the abolition of North Korea's nuclear weapons are of course very important, but overcoming the violence created by militarism and division on the Korean Peninsula will be more difficult and will require more time and effort than improving relations among the two Koreas and the U.S. government.
A key consequence of militarism produced by this division is conscientious objection. Since Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonialism in 1945, more than 19,000 South Korean conscientious objectors have been imprisoned, and since 2000, when this social issue gained visibility in Korean society, more than 9,000 young people have been imprisoned for refusing military service.
Many citizens, critical intellectuals, and the international community have asked the South Korean government not to imprison objectors. The current president Moon Jae-in also spoke several times about the necessity of an alternative service system, not only during his days as a human rights lawyer but also during the presidential candidacy. However, the Korean government still does not recognize the right to refuse to perform military service. As a result, 258 people are still in prison for conscientious objections (as of February 2018), which is more than the sum of all imprisoned objectors in other countries around the world.
On International Conscientious Objectors Day, we ask the Korean government to acknowledge the right to conscientious objection and release the conscientious objectors who are currently in prison.
Recognizing the right to conscientious objection to military service does not only involve guaranteeing objectors the freedom of conscience, thought, and religion. In addition, overcoming deep-rooted violence and militarism will be possible only when we acknowledge this right to object. In order for Korea to make the most of the most precious opportunity for peace that has come in seventy years and to become a country of permanent peace, the right to conscientious objection must be recognized.
May 15, 2018
World Without War