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South Korea: Authorities must stop criminalizing conscientious objectors after landmark court ruling

In response to South Korea’s Constitutional Court’s decision on military service and conscientious objectors, Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International said:

“In this ruling the Constitutional Court has sent a clear message that conscientious objection to military service is a human right. The government must heed the court’s judgement and introduce an appropriate alternative civilian service so in future young men are not punished for their conscientious objection.

“More than two hundred young men remain behind bars and thousands more men have criminal records because of their conscientious objection. It is bitterly disappointing that the court fails to address the legacy of imprisoning those that refused military service on grounds of conscience.

“Conscientious objection is not a crime and we urge the government to go further. All conscientious objectors should have their criminal records erased and those young men that languish in prison should be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Background

In 2014, Amnesty International, Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers), the International Commission of Jurists, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, and War Resisters’ International made a submission to South Korea’s Constitutional Court on the right to conscientious objection.

The submission stated that a system of compulsory military service that makes no provision for those who are conscientious objectors amounts to unjustified interference with the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief and is therefore not compatible with international human rights law.