On June 28, 2018, the Constitutional Court of Korea decided that an article of the military service law is wrong for the Constitution of the Republic of Korea because it does not contain a regulation concerning alternative service for conscientious objectors, and the court demanded that revisions be made to the law to include alternative service.
According to the Guideline for the Reform of Military Service Law that the local daily newspaper KukminIlbo acquired on July 18, the length of alternative service will be more than double the length military service, and performers should remain in military camps with soldiers during this period. People who complete alternative service are going to undertake peaceful activities such as removing mines from places where access for civilians is restricted, undertaking nursing activities at military camps or at the Korean Veteran's Hospital, undertaking excavation project work to recover the remains of those who died during the Korean War, or supporting projects for the public at army barracks. Selection and management will be decided by a judging committee under the authority of the Military Manpower Administration, and lawyers and eminent figures from religious circles will participate.
If performers of alternative service are found to have been admitted by dishonest means, or if they violate their service duties, they will be punished severely. In addition, clerics who issue religious certificates to such individuals during the application process for alternative service will be punished too.
Meanwhile, there are many people who are concerned about or oppose alternative service for several reasons. First of all, Korea is still in a state of truce, so Korea cannot abolish compulsory military service. Therefore, the military system in Korea is necessary for the security of the nation, the life of the nation, and for the existence of the nation. People opposed to this idea argue that an individual’s conscience should be guaranteed, but if someone acts in accordance with his or her beliefs or principles, that should not be deemed a neglect of constitutional obligations or as a violation of national security. In addition, objectors argue that the nation’s defense obligation is a minimum requirement for guaranteeing the basic rights of the people because South Korea suffered from a serious war with North Korea, which has not formally been brought to an end; therefore, some specific individuals must be prohibited from giving up their military obligations.
Because of these opinions, several precautionary measures have been taken to ensure fairness regarding alternative service. As stated above, in the alternative service draft document, a lengthened period of service is suggested, and strict approval standards are to be applied.
However, compared to the army, the service conditions, the level of anxiety, and the degree of danger are to be considered. Therefore, the period and the degree of physical labor required for alternative service should be determined considering these factors.
The most important aspect is that the evaluation criteria for selecting a course of service, physical strength, and period of alternative service should be considered very carefully so that all citizens can understand and fully accept the system. In addition, decisions and modifications should be transparent. Only then can alternative service be introduced successfully.
Jooeun Kwon, Jae Yoon Lee firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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