The South Korean Supreme Court ruled 9-4 Thursday that males could reject compulsory military service on conscientious or religious reasons, and that they could choose instead to complete “alternative” service.
Yonhap, South Korea’s news agency, reported that the ruling stated “punishing (conscientious objectors) for refusing the conscription on grounds of religious faith, in others words, freedom of conscience, is deemed an excessive constraint to an individual’s freedom of conscience … and goes against democracy that stands for tolerance of minorities.”
South Korea’s Military Service Acts requires all male citizens to complete two years of military between the ages of 18-35 as a response to possible North Korean invasion, compensating these citizens between $275 and $325/month. In the past the only exempt parties were Olympic medalists, but this new ruling, decided partly as a result of alleviated threat from North Korea, allows legal exemption on religious and conscientious grounds.
Until now, males who rejected service on conscientious or religious grounds were imprisoned. As a result of this, the US State Department condemned what it deemed a “restriction” of religious freedom. The UN Human Rights Commission wrote a report claiming that South Korea had to adhere to its signing of many human rights statutes which it defies through imprisoning objectors to military service.
The Defense Ministry has yet to come up with what “alternative service” means, but the move has been welcomed by many Koreans.