Draft dodger reignites row over military duty
A judge has lent his support to a conscientious objector accused of shirking his military duty, criticizing the government for failing to offer alternative forms of national service for men who don’t want to serve in the military.
Judge Park Min-jeong of Daejeon District Court has filed a petition with the Constitutional Court on behalf of a 22-year-old man, challenging the constitutionality of Clause 1 in Article 88 of the Military Service Act.
The clause states that men who fail to enlist after receiving their call-up papers without justifiable reasons face a maximum penalty of three years in jail. But Park said under Article 19 of the Constitution all citizens are entitled to “freedom of conscience.”
“The clause in the military service act is unconstitutional by excessively violating freedom of conscience by forcing conscientious objectors to do their military duty and then punishing them,” the judge said.
The number of conscientious objectors is not significant enough to prompt debates on the weakening of the nation’s combat capabilities, Judge Park said, adding that most of conscientious objectors serve out at least 18 months in prison rather than any other form of national service.
“Legislators are responsible for creating alternatives to resolve the conflict,” Judge Park said, arguing that punishing conscientious objectors without providing any alternative forms of national service violates the principle that infringements upon basic rights must be minimized.
The Lee Myung-bak administration is currently reconsidering a plan to introduce alternative military duties this year proposed by the Ministry of National Defense under the late President Roh Moo-hyun. The ministry, citing a public opinion poll from last December, said introducing alternatives to mandatory military duty would be premature.
Park said he lamented that too little was done for conscientious objectors. The majority refuse to serve in the Korean military for reasons of religious faith.
In 2004, the Constitutional Court ruled that Clause 1, Article 88 of the Military Service Act was constitutional after a challenge.
By Kim Seung-hyun, Ser Myo-ja [email@example.com]