Solidarity action for South Korean conscientious objectors

15 May - International Conscientious Objection Day - in South Korea and elsewhere

by War Resisters International

South Korea was War Resisters’ International’s focus for International Conscientious Objection Day 2009 - 15 May. Jointly with the Korean organisations Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection (KSCO) and World Without War (WWW), WRI had organised an international meeting and training of conscientious objectors in Seoul, with participants from Eritrea, Germany, Finland, Macedonia, Israel, Puerto Rico, Spain, and South Korea.

The meeting, which lasted from 10-15 May, served to exchange experiences of movements for conscientious objection, and to prepare for an international action on 15 May itself in the centre of Seoul.

In spite of numerous recommendations from the United Nations Human Rights Committee, South Korea does not recognise the right to conscientious objection. Objectors to military service are sentenced to 18 months in prison. On 31 March 2009, 458 COs were serving their sentences.
In a joint press release for the event, WRI and KSCO wrote: "Amnesty International, WRI and other human rights and peace organisations are demanding from South Korea to recognise the right to conscientious objection. In 2007 at least 936 and in 2008 at least 733 objectors were sentenced in the country. In total over 13000 COs have been imprisoned since 1939.

Despite the heavy international condemnation, South Korea continuously sentences all COs to prison. WRI and KSCO stress that COs are not criminals. The South Korean government violates international law and human rights by imprisoning conscientious objectors."

War Resisters’ International published a special documentation on the situation of conscientious objectors in South Korea for 15 May 2009, which is available for download on WRI’s website. Also, the May issue of WRI’s Broken Rifle focused on conscientious objection in South Korea.

May was also celebrated elsewhere. The World Council of Churches marked International CO Day with a press release, highlighting the situation of conscientious objectors in South Korea, Israel, and of US war resisters in Canada. In Britian, several memorial events took place, among others in London at the Memorial stone for conscientious objectors in Tavistock Square.

In Turkey, conscientious objectors celebrated International CO Day with an action in front of the military leisure centre in Harbiye, central Istanbul. Also, 28-year-old Hakan Filizbay announced his objection to military service on philosophical grounds.

The European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO) met in Cyprus to celebrate International CO Day with several events. This list is far from being complete.

Sources: WRI/KSCO: International Conscientious Objectors’ Day demonstration in South-Korea, Seoul, 14 May 2009, World Council of Churches: Conscientious objection sees positive global trend but serious problems remain, 13 May 2009, Bianet: Pacifists Support Conscientious Objectors, 17 May 2009

War Resisters’ International: Solidarity action for South Korean conscientious objectors. June 1, 2009.