Following Unlawful Orders Is a Crime
By Lee Tae-hoon
False overtime claims by career soldiers reveal how vulnerable enlisted soldiers are to illegitimate orders.
This is partly because the military law is very strict with those disobeying orders.
Clause 44 of the Military Criminal Law stipulates that if a soldier refuses to follow a legitimate order, he can be sentenced for mutiny.
However, Choung Jin, senior policy researcher for the National Assembly’s Defense Committee, says subordinates also have the right to refuse orders if they are unreasonable and irrelevant to performing public duties.
He claims soldiers of conscience should stand up for their rights and refuse to obey unjustifiable orders, in order to change the outdated military culture.
“In terms of welfare and culture, the military is behind the times by two to three decades,” Choung said.
“However, soldiers should be aware that assisting a criminal act is also a crime, whether they have carried it out by an order or instruction of a superior officer or not,” he said.
Kim Seok-won, a former troop information and education officer, points out that illegitimate orders by career soldiers greatly hamper the morale of soldiers in the country.
“The most valuable gift that the military can give to conscripted soldiers is the honor and pride of performing the solemn duty of protecting the country,” Kim said.
“I fear that some reckless officers are destroying the morale of our young soldiers by forcing them to follow unreasonable orders. How can the careless officers expect to earn respect from subordinates, not to mention dutifully follow their orders in case war breaks out?”
The Constitution guarantees basic human rights to soldiers, including freedom of speech and assembly, as well as the right to have an adequate amount of rest.
The military law and regulations, however, contradict the Constitution, often allowing superior officers to demand absolute obedience without question.
A 2005 survey of reservists by the National Human Rights Commission shows that 85.5 percent of respondents reported being mobilized for unnecessary labor, such as gardening, with 80.6 percent forced to work on their free time on holidays.
The commission recommended the military revise the Servicemen’s Code of Conduct in 2005, when a company commander at an Army recruit training center in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, ordered 192 recruits to eat human feces.
It called for the protection of the soldiers’ right to report the unlawful orders of superiors to military authorities, such as the military police, as well as to institutions outside the military.