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Adjusting the length of service and expanding the number of agencies and areas of alternative service should be considered.
- Recommended improvements to the alternative service system to the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Justice.
□ On April 28, 2023, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK, Chairperson Song Doo-hwan) made the following recommendations to the Minister of National Defense and the Minister of Justice regarding the period of service and institutions for alternative service personnel.
○ The Commission recommended that the Minister of National Defense adjust the 36-month training period for alternative service personnel to a six-month period in accordance with Article 19 of the Act On Assignment To And Performance Of Alternative Service and establish alternative service institutions other than correctional facilities.
○ It also recommended that the Minister of Justice prepare relevant guidelines to ensure that alternative service personnel serving in correctional facilities are assigned tasks that take into account their aptitude and qualifications.
□ In the meantime, a number of alternative service members have filed complaints with the Human Rights Commission alleging human rights violations under the current alternative service system. The main complaints were that it was punitive in nature, requiring them to spend 36 months in camps, which is twice the length of active duty in the Army, and that it was unfair to require them to perform work in correctional facilities that was previously done by inmates in correctional facilities.
□ In response, the Minister of National Defense, argued that the adjustment of the service period of alternative service personnel is linked to the adjustment of the service period of active duty personnel and therefore cannot be adjusted without amending the Military Service Act. In addition, he argued that 1) when the Act On Assignment To And Performance Of Alternative Service (hereinafter referred to as the 'Alternative Service Act') was enacted, the 36-month residential service was established through public hearings and examination by the Subcommittee on Bill Review, 2) the nature of correctional work is of public interest, and 3) there are no alternatives other than correctional facilities for residential service, so the legislator can be considered to have established the service period, service type, and service institution for alternative service personnel in consideration of social conventions within the scope of legislative discretion.
Furthermore, the tasks performed by the substitute workers are in the public domain, such as facility maintenance and goods management (the inmates have been assisting with the tasks of general staff due to a shortage of personnel), and it cannot be said that the substitute workers have been assigned to the tasks that are contrary to their duties as public servants.
□ The Protection of Military Human Rights Commission of NHRCK noted that 1) the Military Service Act states the active duty period of the Army is 24 months (26 months for the Navy and 27 months for the Air Force), but Article 19 of the Military Service Act allows the Minister of National Defense to adjust the service period within the scope of the regulations; and 2) Article 19 of the Alternative Service Act also allows the Minister of National Defense to adjust the service period of alternative service personnel within a range of six months when adjusting the service period of active duty personnel.
As a result, the Commission concluded that it is possible to adjust the period of alternative service without amending the Military Service Act.
□ Regarding alternative service organizations and tasks, it is difficult to recognize the reasonableness of limiting the field of alternative service to the correctional field, and it is necessary to consider fields with high service difficulty and public and social needs, such as social welfare, firefighting, medical care, disaster prevention, and relief.
In the case of active duty soldiers, the system supports the fulfillment of military service and self-development for their aptitudes and future careers, and supplementary soldiers are also serving in various fields with high service difficulty and public interest, such as research, production and manufacturing, medicine, law, and welfare.
On the other hand, the alternative service system limits the service institutions to correctional facilities and restricts the field of work to assisting with meals, supplies, health and hygiene, correction and edification, and facility management, which is said to be discriminatory treatment that does not take into account individual aptitudes and majors, which violates the right to pursue happiness and the right to equality.
For reference, the NHRCK has already expressed its opinion on the "Partial Amendment of the Military Service Act" and the "Bill on the Transfer and Service of Alternative Service" in 2019, stating, "Considering the ideology and purpose of conscientious objection, the service area should be expanded to various public interest fields such as social welfare and safety management in addition to correctional fields such as detention centers and prisons, and the form of service should be designed to suit the characteristics of work other than residential service." It is difficult to see the reasonableness of limiting the field of alternative service to the correctional field due to living in the territory and the intensity of service.
□ The NHRCK recommended that the Minister of Defense adjust the period of alternative service within the range of six months and diversify alternative service institutions, and that the Minister of Justice prepare relevant guidelines to assign tasks to alternative service personnel in consideration of their aptitude and qualifications.