|A notice for an application for alternative service is seen on a partition at a Seoul branch of the Military Manpower Administration (MMA), Tuesday, when it opened up applications for conscientious objectors who wish to perform other duties than military service due to religious or other ideological reasons. Yonhap|
Military opens applications for alternative service
By Jung Da-min
The nation's nearly 70-year-long conscription policy has entered a new stage, Tuesday, with the military allowing alternatives to mandatory military service.
The change became possible following a June 2018 Constitutional Court ruling that found a relevant law unconstitutional for failing to institute measures for alternative public services for conscientious objectors who refuse military service for religious or other ideological reasons.
Starting Tuesday, the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) began to receive applications for alternative service.
In South Korea, all able-bodied men must complete about two years of compulsory military service. For decades since the 1950-53 Korean War, conscientious objectors in the South, who refuse to serve in the military mostly on religious grounds, had been forced to join the military or imprisoned.
In the historic ruling in June 2018, the court recognized the need for a legal system to offer alternative service options for conscientious objectors. Following the court decision, the National Assembly revised relevant laws to implement an alternative service system, which is now taking effect.
The MMA said draftees for active service and reserve members of the military can apply for the alternative duties by submitting relevant documents up until five days before their enlistment day. The MMA's alternative service commission will look into applicants' religious and personal beliefs to decide if they are eligible for alternative service.
|Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo delivers an opening speech during a ceremony to appoint members of the Military Manpower Administration's (MMA) alternative service commission, at the defense ministry in Seoul, June 23. Starting Tuesday, the MMA opened applications for conscientious objectors who prefer alternative duties. Yonhap|
Once passing the commission's screening, the applicants will begin their alternative duties at correctional facilities starting October, with their jobs there to include cooking, facility maintenance and healthcare for inmates. Their service term will be 36 months, significantly longer than mandatory military service.
The alternative service commission consists of 29 experts including lawyers, scholars, psychiatrists, human rights activists, high-level government officials.
"The 29 members are now reviewing the draft of the judging criteria before finalizing them in mid-July through discussions," said Yu Kyun-hye, secretary general of the alternative service commission. "There are two primary classifications ― religious beliefs and personal beliefs ― and we will be looking into the authenticity of the applicants' beliefs and how they have lived their lives accordingly."
Some commission members said the alternative duty system requires improvements.
"The 36-month period for alternative service is punitive as it is much longer than the United Nations' recommendation that the period for alternative duty should be around 1.5 times that of active military service," said Lim Tae-hoon, a commission member who is also the head of the Center for Military Human Rights Korea based in Seoul.
"However, the beginning of alternative service itself is a very meaningful step after two decades of relevant discussions in the country. South Korea has now joined the ranks of advanced nations in terms of human rights. And I also see the 36-month period will gradually be reduced to a period that is about 1.5 times the length of active military service."