A conscientious objector is an individual who insists on the right to refuse to perform any kind of military service for moral or religious reasons. To protect citizens' rights, there are some countries like Russia, Taiwan, and Switzerland that approve of conscientious objectors being assigned to alternative civilian service as a substitute for military service. However, some nations such as North Korea, South Korea, and Turkey punish conscientious objectors for committing mutiny. Among G20 members, only Korea forbids the refusal of military service. Recently, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights stated that persons performing military service should not be excluded from the right to have a conscientious objection to military service and that punishing conscientious objectors is contrary to international law. In Korea, thousands of conscientious objectors had no choice but to be imprisoned as criminals in the past. Even now, about 500 young men, some of them Buddhists or members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church but mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, are arrested every year for refusing military service. This goes against international human rights standards and the government of Korea has been repeatedly criticized for imprisoning them and not allowing them to perform an alternative service.
In countries which have adopted conscription systems, 'alternative service' is a service to public institutions in lieu of military service. Some conscientious objectors consider themselves to be pacifist, non-interventionist, non-resistant, and non-militaristic, i.e., not aggressive or imperialistic. Most people who choose some form of alternative service have religious beliefs or faith in nonviolence for personal reasons. Other reasons for people opting for alternative service include health concerns or political reasons. They complete their social service as social welfare agents or as public workers for 24 months or more. The purpose of alternative service is to train highly skilled individuals by having them focus on their studies or technology. Furthermore, these people can contribute to the development of national industry by applying their skills instead of serving in the army. Currently, 25 nations, including the Republic of Korea, have a conscription system. However, among them, only 9 countries allow some form of alternative service. Korea has introduced alternative civilian service since the 1970s; however, it was based entirely on the result of a physical examination not the individual’s “conscience.”
As the conscientious objector problem has been hotly debated and the Commission on Human Rights has adopted a resolution in 1997 stating that all people choosing to object to military duty because of their beliefs or principles should not be discriminated against regardless of their religion, public concern about alternative service is growing rapidly. In addition, allowing alternative service was one of President Moon Jae-in’s election pledges, as was his pledge to submit a resolution stating that all people choosing to be conscientious objectors because of their beliefs or principles should not be discriminated against.
Jooeun Kwon, Jae Yoon Lee firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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