Government considers 36 months in correctional facilities for alternative service


The South Korean government is seeking to impose 36 months of work in correctional facilities for those seeking alternatives to military service after the country’s top court recognized conscientious objection as a valid reason for rejecting mandatory military service.

While the Ministry of National Defense and the conscription agency have yet to finalize plans for an alternative service program, they said the government is leaning toward a 36-month service period rather than other options involving shorter terms.

The government organizations also said they prefer to require conscientious objectors to fulfill their service at correctional facilities, rather than fire stations or other public facilities. The government’s final plan is expected to be announced by the end of this year.

“We put more emphasis on 36-month-long service rather than a 27-month-long plan,” a senior defense official told reporters on Wednesday after releasing a document that said the government is considering both options. 

Activists protested against the government`s plan to impose 36 months for alternative military service last week. Yonhap

The government has sought to determine the ideal duration of an alternative service program since the Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that conscientious objection is a valid reason to refuse to perform mandatory military service.

Every able-bodied man in South Korea is required to serve at least 21 months in the military between the ages of 18 and 28. The Military Service Act calls for up to three years in prison for those who refuse to serve, although most serve 18 months.

Some human rights groups and progressive activists criticized the government’s plan, saying 36 months is too long for an alternative service program, pointing to programs in advanced countries as examples.

“(The government plan) does not conform to international human rights standards due to its punitive measures,” the civic groups said in a letter sent to the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief at the United Nations.

While there is no internationally recognized standard for how long an alternative military service program should last, the UN Human Rights Committee says it should not be punitive in nature.

The defense official said a 36-month program could prevent abuse of the system. The official pointed to existing alternative programs, in which some conscripts already serve for similar periods in medical and industrial sectors in lieu of conventional military service.

But the official added that the government could choose 27 months for human rights reasons. The country’s top human rights watcher said in September that the alternative service program should not last more than 1.5 times the length of the conventional 21-month program.


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