Rights groups this week urged South Korea to repeal a sodomy law that punishes sexual acts between soldiers with up to two years in prison.
‘South Korea’s military sodomy law is a blight on the country’s human rights record and multiple human rights bodies have called for its abolition’ said Graeme Reid of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The law punishes servicemen for ‘disgraceful conduct’. Prosecutors can apply it even if the sexual acts took place outside military facilities.
Two years of military service is compulsory for all able-bodied South Korean men.
Homosexuality is legal in South Korea. But, conservative attitudes, especially among Christians, force many LGBTI Koreans to live in the closet.
What’s more, there is currently no discrimination legislation to protect LGBTI Koreans. Same-sex marriage is also not legal.
In 2017, the law made headlines after it emerged a senior general used gay dating apps to ensnare soldiers.
His so-called ‘gay witch hunt’ reportedly revealed 50 soldiers.
In May that year, a court found an Army captain guilty of having sex with another soldier. It sentenced him to six months in prison. But, the sentence was suspended for one year.
In August, the government said it would review the law.
HRW filed a briefing with South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Thursday (7 March) against the rights-abusing law.
‘Criminalizing adult consensual same-sex conduct should be relegated to the history books – it has no place in Korean society’ said Reid.
South Korea has recently defended the ban. It told the UN ‘indecent conduct’ charges are necessary for maintaining discipline in the predominantly male military.
Slipping on LGBTI rights
South Korea’s fledging LGBTI movement has triggered a conservative backlash, HRW warned earlier this year.
In its 2019 world report, HRW said leaders had done little to protect the rights of LGBTI people in South Korea.
Government education guidelines on sex education also discriminate against LGBT youth, HRW warned.
Pride events in Korea are increasingly under attack from conservative Christians. The groups pressure authorities to deny permission and violently disrupt activities.
The National Human Rights Commission claimed it not ‘deny’ the rights of a same-sex couple to marry.
But, it also rejected a petition filed by a British and South Korean gay couple. They got married overseas and asked for their marriage to be recognized.