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확대축소프린트
 Yoo Gyeong-chan
Being True to Faith while Fulfilling Patriotic Duty; Alternative Military Service
제 203 호    발행일 : 2022.05.02 

During an interview conducted by the Sisa Journal in November 2018 Son Hak-bin, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church, was asked why he did not comply with the national obligation of military duty. He replied, “In Acts of the Apostles 5:29, it is said, It is more suitable to obey God than humans. When the teachings of the Bible contradict the rules of the state we should be obedient to God, even if it implies civil disobedience.”
Most religious conscientious objectors will offer the same reason for not being willing to serve in the military, but it begs the question of whether they are trying to commit an illegal act? The short answer is that they are not. In this issue, CBT reporters will discuss a law that was specifically passed for religious conscientious objectors named, ‘the Act on the Incorporation and Service of Alternatives.’ (Act No. 18001, Partial Revision on April 13, 2021
)

[Background of the alternative army service]

  In June 2018, the Constitutional Court announced, Considering that today’s concept of national security is progressing toward a comprehensive concept of security, which includes not only military services but also natural disasters, social disasters, and terrorism, the content of national defense obligations should not be limited to military services. In other words, such non-military services can also be included in the contents of the national defense obligations or the military duties that make up a major aspect according to the legislator’s formation, as the activities such as disaster prevention, rescue, and restoration can contribute to security in a broad sense. – Based on complaints that the law, such as Article 88 (1) of the Military Service Act was unconstitutional nonconformity was decided on the basis of the Military Service Act that did not allow for the alternative amry service for those who refused to serve in the military on the grounds of religion and conscience.

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  Therefore, it was ordered to amend the relevant provisions by December 31, 2019. On November 1, 2018, the Supreme Court of Korea acquitted the Jehovah’s Witnesses of wrongdoing for refusing to participate in active duty, and on December 28, 2018, the Ministry of National Defense proposed an alternative army service system for them. The alternative army service system requires three years of national service at correctional facilities such as prisons. Unlike other alternatives, like security guards that existed and was abolished in the past, it was decided that simple labor such as cooking, transporting goods, and caring for patients in medical wards were also viable alternatives. This agenda was passed by the plenary session of the National Assembly on December 27, 2019. Since then, from January 2020, the alternative army service system has been implemented for those who refuse the military service based on religious beliefs. In 1968, the court decided that The refusal of religious objectors to serve in the military was not legitimate, and did not fall in the category of freedom of conscience. Furthermore, refusal to serve was punishable by an actual prison sentence, but all of those religious conscientious objectors were retrospectively acquitted  in 2018. However, the alternative army service allowed them to fulfill their national obligations.

[The problems which alternative army service needs to address]

  What are some of the reasons for people to make their own opinions in spite of an existing, and seemingly perfect law? Representatively, some of them are as follows.
  First, it is the ambiguity of the criteria for distinguishing those who wish to do alternative military services. It cannot be expressed in cold, accurate figures, because it represents cognitive opinions of faith instead of physical states. As a result, the judiciary’s rulings also show different results in consecutive cases. According to a recent article by the Internet Newspaper Committee, a young man who professed to be a Jehovah’s Witness had not attended church since becoming a college student in 2009, but resumed his attendance in 2018 when he received a notice of enlistment. In response, he was found guilty of feigning religious activities to avoid military service, but in a second trial he was found not guilty.
  In March this year, the court found another young man innocent who refused to undergo reserve forces training for religious reasons. In a subsequent case, he was found guilty just to be finally acquitted in a third trial. However, the prosecution appealed against the ruling, and as a result, they are currently waiting for the Supreme Court ruling again.
  The ambiguity of these standards may cause people to doubt the original intention of the law. According to MBC News, the Alternative Army Service Review Committee rejected a man’s application for alternative army service in March 2021. He has been a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses since childhood, so he applied for alternative army service because of his religious beliefs. However, it was confirmed that two years prior, he was on trial for committing sex crimes against an elementary school girl. Although he committed an act contrary to the doctrine of his faith, he expressed regret and asked for leniency. His application was denied. An MBC newscaster asked rhetorically, “Did you commit the most malicious sex crimes, saying that you couldn’t tolerate any violence?” and added, “He is a sex offender who pretended to oppose war violence because he didn’t want to go to the army.”
  The second reason is equity. One of the important criteria in this law is that it should not go against conscription and equity. In the contents of the 2018 Constitutional Court’s amendment order according to the constitutional inconsistency at the National Legal Information Center, the following clauses can be found in considerations when introducing an alternative army service system. Therefore, when introducing the alternative army service system, there should be a reasonable standard for distinguishing conscientious objectors from draft dodgers, and there should be equity between alternative service and military service obligations. Also, in the introduction of alternative army service in the same document and the contents of the national consensus part, Recognizing an exception to national defense and military service obligations can go against securing the existence of a national community and constitutional order and guaranteeing the basic rights of the people. Moreover, it creates hindering social integration and shakes the foundation of the military service system based on the national military service and conscription system. It displays the importance of equity in implementation of this law. However, opinions on this are still divided. According to an article by KBS News in October 2020, in political circles, there were opinions that the period in alternative army service should be 44 months, or they need to serve in the mine removal team, and there were more than 1,300 related articles on the petition bulletin board. However, there’s the opposite opinion. In an interview with Hankyoreh newspaper, lawyer Lim Jae-sung said, “Based on the European Human Rights Court’s ruling that alternative army service should not exceed 1.5 times the length of active service, the alternative army service system, which is twice the amount of active service (18 months), does not meet international human rights standards.”
  In addition, according to the Constitutional Court’s 2018 amendment order, ‘In the end, the introduction of an alternative army service system will be an area where public decisions should precede normative evaluation,’ but there is a question as to whether the law has reached sufficient agreement among members of the public. According to a public opinion poll conducted by Research & Research and a poll conducted by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 33.3 % were in favor of conscientious objection in 2011, and 46.1 % in 2016. When looking at various articles, social media, or video materials related to alternative army service, it is easy to find articles of conflicting opinions with comments such as, ‘I can’t understand.’ and ‘I respect their choice.’ When the CBT reporters asked some citizens about their opinions on this issue, one of them, C, a male in his 20s, replied as follows “Currently, the number of active sold iers is decreasing as the population decreases over the years. Therefore, it does not make sense to replace military service in consideration of individual cicumstances in the current situation, and in a divided country.”

[Alternative army service system, future direction]

  As such, the alternative service system has factors that need to be refined and changed even at the present time when the law is in effect. According to the Constitutional Court’s amendment order, one of the reasons for the alternative army service is Rather, taking this view at this stage is to solidify the peace regime on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia based on strong security of the Republic of Korea. Therefore,the CBT reporters hope that the direction of this law in the future will address people’s concerns about national security and identify those who keep their own beliefs, more accurately. Furthermore, the CBT reporters hope it leads to constructive change in social awareness about them.


By Yoo Gyeong-chan | jg010077@cbnu.ac.kr
By Kang Min-ji | mj41@cbnu.ac.kr

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