Colombian peace group lends support to South Korean conscientious objector

Bogotá, Colombia – For Jenny Neme, director of Colombian Mennonite organization Justapaz (Just Peace), recent support for South Korean conscientious objector San-Ming Lee was a natural occurrence. It sprung out, she said, of an attempt to “seek solidarity and mutual support, based in the prophetic role of the churches to engage in political advocacy in the spaces where we met . . . to encourage churches to seek the possibility of political advocacy in many different situations.”

Justapaz has worked with themes of conscientious objection (CO) for almost 25 years, encouraging and supporting young men from around the country that choose to object to Colombia’s obligatory military service because of their faith. Justapaz also advocates for the inclusion of the CO right in Colombia’s legal system. The organization uses workshops, theological training and alliance building to promote nonviolent peacebuilding as an alternative to military service.

It wasn’t until the March 2014 meeting of the Mennonite World Conference Peace Commission in Holland, however, that Neme first heard about the case of San-Ming Lee, a 27-year-old member of the Grace and Peace Mennonite Church in Seoul, South Korea. Lee is the first Mennonite in South Korea to declare himself a CO, and is currently serving a jail sentence of 18 months. Over ninety-two percent of the imprisoned COs worldwide are in South Korea.

Since hearing Lee’s story, Neme and Justapaz has shared this CO’s testimony with Colombian Mennonites. Many individuals and churches have committed to sending him letters of encouragement and prayer. According to Neme, part of this response comes from shared experiences. “This is something that can happen to us in Colombia as well, that one of our young men could be imprisoned,” she noted. “As well, we are witnesses that when we have needed urgent responses from our brothers and sisters, it has worked.”

As a result of conversations in Holland and the response to Lee’s situation, Justapaz is working with organizations in the USA, Germany and South Korea on a series of workshops on conscientious objection for the MWC Assembly, to be held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA in July 2015.The workshops will include historical and theological perspectives, as well as a modern-day look at the realities of conscientious objection, with the goal of further worldwide solidarity surrounding an issue with daily impacts for Anabaptists worldwide.

For Neme, conscientious objection “represents a challenge for the [Anabaptist community] worldwide, to return to value the theme—a theme that is very important for our faith tradition.”

Article by Anna Vogt, Justapaz

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