By Park Si-soo
The state human rights watchdog lashed out Wednesday at the military criminal code for banning homosexuality in barracks, setting off a new round of debates over the introduction of the Korean version of “Don’t ask don’t tell” policy.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said its decision-making body has asked the Constitutional Court to nullify the law on the grounds that it infringes upon soldiers’ rights to equality and freedom of sexual preference. It added the law unduly violates the privacy of service members.
This suggestion runs counter to the policy by the Ministry of Defense which believes allowing same-sex relationships would trigger conflicts and bring down overall military discipline.
The country’s highest court is now reviewing the law, with the date for the verdict remaining uncertain.
The move by the human rights agency came after a gay rights’ group filed a petition with the NHRC in May over the constitutionality of Article 92 of the military criminal code.
“Homosexuality doesn’t have a negative impact on the strength of the military, unity and morale at all,” the NHRC said in a statement. “The law violates the right of equality and is also out of sync with contemporary society that emphasizes equality.”
Under the act, those convicted of having homosexual relations in barracks face up to one year in prison and forced retirement.
According to the Ministry of National Defense, a total of 176 people were put on trial between 2004 and 2007 on charges of breaking the law.
“We found there were no soldiers punished for having homosexual relations in other countries,” the watchdog said. “In Canada, Australia and Israel, people can join the military even after they come out of the closet.”
In contrast the ministry here sticks to the ban on homosexuality in barracks.
“It’s still unacceptable with our common sensibility,” the ministry refuted. “This is an issue of which justification should be determined based on the culture and tradition of each country, which means the NHRC’s suggestion based on cases in other countries is inappropriate.”
Currently, 53 countries, including China, Yemen and Iran, prohibit gay soldiers. In most European nations, homosexuals are able to take part in military service.