Equal service for allAs early as 2009 alternative military service will be allowed to those who refuse compulsory conscription on religious or other conscientious grounds, the government announced yesterday.
People who refuse to hold guns can now serve their country in other ways.
However, to create a balance between alternative and conventional military service, the authorities will place those doing alternative service in more intense working environments with extended terms of duty.
As the only divided country in the world, imposing compulsory military service on the entire male population is necessary to guarantee the safety of the South Korean people.
That is why, when two articles in the Constitution were found to conflict with each other, the government had to put conscription above freedom of conscience.
The Constitution says that all Koreans have an obligation to serve in the military, but it also assures freedom of conscience.
Since 2002 around 750 Korean males have been classified as conscientious objectors each year, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, and about 90 percent of these men, mostly in their early 20s, are sent to prison.
Despite the threat from the North, this is something that cannot be overlooked. Allowing conscientious objectors to contribute to society in a different way is a more positive approach, but only on the premise that the new policy will not be used as a means to avoid military service.
The government is considering the Hansen’s disease hospital on Sorok-do, South Jeolla and also the tuberculosis hospital in Masan, South Gyeongsang as the destination for the alternative servers.
Mental hospitals in Seoul, Naju, Chuncheon and Gongju are also on the list as possible service venues.
The service term will be longer than the current 24 months imposed on those in the military and the 26 months for public service agents ― many are saying that 36 months is an appropriate term.
The extended service term must be of sufficient length to prevent religious objectors from receiving preference.
Also, strict decisions must be made regarding who is eligible. During the actual service, close supervision should be enforced.
Alternative service is designed to protect the rights of minorities and is exceptional and unavoidable at the same time. This cannot shake the principle of an equal military obligation for all, which is the foundation of our national security.