Sunday was conscientious objector’s day; South Korea’s ACS program seen as punitive | News

As the world geared up for International Conscientious Objector Day on Sunday, May 15, more than 800 Jehovah’s Witnesses in South Korea chose to perform alternative civilian service instead of compulsory military duties.

Under the current ACS format, these young men are by definition prisoners, as they are forced to live and work in correctional facilities. The republic’s 36-month ACS is the longest in the world, twice the length of active military service, and therefore considered punitive. Experts inside and outside South Korea agree that the program violates an international pact to which the republic is a party and have called on the government for reforms.

South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Doo-Hwan Song said, “I deeply agree on the need to improve the (ACS) system to meet international standards for human rights.

South Korea’s ACS first made international headlines when it was introduced in 2019. Previously, for some 65 years, South Korean courts had criminally convicted and imprisoned more than 19,000 conscientious objectors, for most Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As a result, for decades South Korea was often censored internationally. However, the criticism has since shifted to the punitive nature of the ACS program, which is double the length of the prison sentence imposed by the republic prior to the 2019 provision.

According to Amnesty International: “South Korean conscientious objectors have been promised a real alternative service. Instead, they face little more than an alternative sentence.

California resident Byung-Ho Son, who served a three-year sentence from 1998 to 2001, said: “While I am glad Korea is now allowing alternative civilian service, there is certainly room for progress. “.

The program is inconsistent with the constitution of the republic, infringing on citizens’ freedom of thought, conscience and religion as guaranteed in Article 19. Experts are eagerly anticipating how the newly elected president and his administration will address the issue.

For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses or conscientious objection in general, as well as the punitive nature of ACS in South Korea, email the Asia-Pacific Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses (APAJW): [email protected]

APAJW is an incorporated general association representing over 770,000 members in the Asia and Oceania region. The main objective is to support the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses and to protect their fundamental rights.

Ryan H. Bowman