Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

Korea, Republic of: Compulsory military service including the length of service, possibility of conscientious objection and grounds for exemption; consequences for draft evaders; policy on military service of homosexuals; impact that revealing sexual orientation before entering the military or while serving would have on the person's military service, post-military employment, ability to travel and social and economic status

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 26 February 2007
Citation / Document Symbol KOR102151.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Korea, Republic of: Compulsory military service including the length of service, possibility of conscientious objection and grounds for exemption; consequences for draft evaders; policy on military service of homosexuals; impact that revealing sexual orientation before entering the military or while serving would have on the person's military service, post-military employment, ability to travel and social and economic status, 26 February 2007, KOR102151.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47d6545f23.html [accessed 20 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

According to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), military service is compulsory for South Korean men between 20 and 30 years of age (US 12 Dec. 2006). The same source reports that conscripts must serve between 24 and 28 months, "depending on the military branch involved" (ibid.).

In a submission made to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee, the government of South Korea said that it "does not recognise alternative forms of service for conscientious objectors to military service, for it may result in a rapid decline in its defence capability" (UN 10 Feb. 2005, para. 3). In the same statement, the government highlighted the threat posed by North Korea to its security (ibid.).

According to the UN Human Rights Committee, the maximum penalty for refusing active military service in Korea is three years' imprisonment (UN 31 Oct. 2006). Moreover, the committee added, "there is no legislative limit on the number of times [those who refuse] may be recalled and subjected to fresh penalties" (ibid.).

With respect to criminal punishments for conscientious objectors, the government of Korea provided the following information contained in a UN report.

  • Total [number of cases]: 1 765
  • Two or more years imprisonment: 17
  • From one a half to less than two years imprisonment: 1 142
  • Suspended sentence: 3
  • Halt of indictment: 2
  • Acquittal: 41
  • Suspension of indictment: 2
  • Pending in court: 558 (UN 10 Feb. 2005, para 27A)

Korean men who fail to "satisfy military requirements" are subsequently disqualified from being employed by the government or public organizations, according to the UN Human Rights Committee (UN 31 Oct. 2006).

In 2005, eight men were reportedly discharged from the military for homosexuality (The Advocate 18 Feb. 2006; Korea Times 16 Feb 2006). However, South Korea has reportedly announced that it would "ease or end" its ban on gay soldiers (CSSM 30 May 2006; The Advocate 31 May 2006).

The Centre for the Study of Sexual Minorities (CSSM) – an official research unit of the University of California – reports that the first phase of Korea's new sexual orientation regulations came into force on 1 April 2006 (CSSM 30 May 2006). These new regulations reportedly "restrict the use of personal information about gay soldiers on military documents, end the forced medical examinations of gay troops and punish perpetrators of sexuality-based physical or verbal abuse" (ibid.). Further information on the implementation of these regulations could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

According to The Korea Times, human rights groups asked the Ministry of Defence to protect gay men from abuse "in the barracks" (15 Feb. 2006). An official from a gay rights group was quoted as saying, "The cases unearthed by our counselling efforts indicate that gay soldiers are vulnerable to a serious level of physical and mental abuse in the military" (Korea Times 15 Feb. 2006). The public exposure of "widespread but hidden anti-gay violence" in the military prompted the government to pass the new sexual orientation regulations, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Vassar College reportedly commented (CCSM 30 May 2006). In an article published by CCSM, the Associate Professor was also quoted as saying that time will tell whether or not the government's policy changes will translate into "significant change" (ibid.).

According to a report of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), South Korea legally prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment (ILGA Nov. 2006). Moreover, Korea also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in areas other than employment (ibid.; US 8 Mar. 2005).

However, a 2003 article in The Gully, an online gay and lesbian magazine, states that in South Korea, "no legal protection is guaranteed to queers" (6 June 2003). According to the same article, since 1995, there have been numerous reports of "police harassment of queers" (The Gully 6 June 2003). Police officers have reportedly forced gay bars and saunas to make payments and have also extorted money from homosexuals by threatening to expose their sexuality to their families (ibid.). The article further notes that

[a]buses are rarely reported because gay people are afraid they'll be outed and know that the authorities – from social workers and doctors to the police, churches and government agencies – are, at best, unresponsive, and at worst, themselves perpetrators of homophobic violence. (The Gully 6 June 2003)

With respect to the social status of homosexuals, the Associate Professor from Vassar College also reportedly said that most people living in Asian countries see homosexuality as "abnormal" and social attitudes regarding homosexuality resemble those prevalent during 19th century Europe (CCSM 30 May 2006). The Advocate, a US-based gay and lesbian magazine, reports that Korea is a society with "strict Confucian traditions" and a "strong Roman Catholic Church" but added that "some acceptance" of homosexuality has recently been gained (18 Feb. 2006). The article pointed to a hit movie in Korea that centres on a gay love triangle (The Advocate 18 Feb. 2006).

No information on the ability of homosexuals to travel could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

The Advocate [Los Angeles]. 31 May 2006. "South Korea's New Tolerance for Gay Soldiers Shocks Scholars." [Accessed 15 Dec. 2006]
_____. 18 Febuary 2006. "Gay Soldiers booted from South Korean Army." [Accessed 13 Dec. 2006]

Centre for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CCSM). 30 May 2006. "Scholars Analyze Plan by Korea to Re-Visit Military Gay Ban." [Accessed 13 Dec. 2006]

The Gully. 6 June 2003. Huso Yi. "Life and Death in Queer Korea: Part 3 – Civil Rights and Wrongs." [Accessed 14 Dec. 2006]

International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). November 2006. "LGBT World Legal Wrap up Survey." [Accessed 11 Dec. 2006]

The Korea Times [Seoul]. 16 February 2006. Jung Sung-ki. "Eight Gay Soldiers Discharged From Military in 2005." [Accessed 13 Dec. 2006]
_____. 15 February 2006. Kim Tong-hyung. "Civic Groups Urge Better Protection of Gay Solders." [Accessed 13 Dec. 2006]

United Nations (UN). 31 October 2006. UN Human Rights Committee. Consideration of Reports Submitted by State Parties under Article 40 of the Covenant. Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee, Republic of Korea. (CCPR/C/KOR/CO/3/CPR.1) [Accessed 11 Dec. 2006]
_____. 10 February 2005. "Consideration of Reports Submitted by State Parties under Article 40 of the Covenant." Third periodic report. Republic of Korea. [Accessed 11 Dec. 2006]

United States (US). 12 December 2006. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "South Korea." The World Factbook. [Accessed 14 Dec. 2006]
_____. 8 March 2006. Department of State. "Republic of Korea." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005. [Accessed 15 Dec. 2006]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Factiva, Gay.com, The Gay Times, Government of Korea Web site, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Office of the United Nations High Comissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),Queer Resources Directory, War Resisters International.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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