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Constitution, Government & Legislation | Courts & Judgments | Human Rights | Korean Unification
map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

North Korea has a centralized government under the rigid control of the communist Korean Workers' Party (KWP), to which all government officials belong. A few minor political parties are allowed to exist in name only. Kim Il Sung ruled North Korea from 1948 until his death in July 1994. Kim served both as Secretary General of the KWP and as President of North Korea.

Officially, the legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), is the highest organ of state power. Its members are elected every 4 years. Usually only two meetings are held annually, each lasting a few days. A standing committee elected by the SPA performs legislative functions when the Assembly is not in session. In reality, the Assembly serves only to ratify decisions made by the ruling KWP.

Little is known about the actual lines of power and authority in the North Korean Government despite the formal structure set forth in the constitution. Following the death of Kim Il Sung, his son--Kim Jong Il--inherited supreme power. Kim Jong Il was named General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party in October 1997, and in September 1998, the SPA reconfirmed Kim Jong Il as Chairman of the National Defense Commission and declared that position as the "highest office of state." North Korea's 1972 constitution was amended in late 1992. The government is led by the president and, in theory, a super cabinet called the Central People's Committee (CPC).

The constitution designates the CPC as the government's top policymaking body. It is headed by the president, who also nominates the other committee members. The CPC makes policy decisions and supervises the cabinet, or State Administration Council (SAC). The SAC is headed by a premier and is the dominant administrative and executive agency.

Administratively, North Korea is divided into nine provinces and four provincial-level municipalities--Pyongyang, Chongjin, Nampo, and Kaesong. It also appears to be divided into nine military districts.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The North Korean Constitution states that courts are independent and that judicial proceedings are to be carried out in strict accordance with the law; however, an independent judiciary and individual rights do not exist. North Korea's judiciary is "accountable" to the SPA and the president. The SPA's standing committee also appoints judges to the highest court for 4-year terms that are concurrent with those of the Assembly. The Public Security Ministry dispenses with trials in political cases and refers prisoners to the Ministry of State Security for punishment.

The Constitution contains elaborate procedural protections, and it states that cases should be heard in public and that the accused has the right to a defense; under some circumstances hearings may be closed to the public as stipulated by law. When trials are held, the Government apparently assigns lawyers. Reports indicate that defense lawyers are not considered representatives of the accused; rather, they are expected to help the court by persuading the accused to confess guilt. Some reports note a distinction between those accused of political crimes and common criminals and state that the Government affords trials or lawyers only to the latter. The Government considers critics of the regime to be "political criminals."

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The North Korean Government's human rights record remained poor in 2001, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Citizens do not have the right peacefully to change their government. There continued to be reports of extrajudicial killings and disappearances. Citizens are detained arbitrarily, and many are held as political prisoners; prison conditions are harsh. The constitutional provisions for an independent judiciary and fair trials are not implemented in practice. The regime subjects its citizens to rigid controls. The leadership perceives most international norms of human rights, especially individual rights, as illegitimate, alien, and subversive to the goals of the State and party. During the year, the Government entered into a human rights dialogue with the European Union; two meetings were held, but no significant results were reported. The Penal Code is Draconian, stipulating capital punishment and confiscation of assets for a wide variety of "crimes against the revolution," including defection, attempted defection, slander of the policies of the party or State, listening to foreign broadcasts, writing "reactionary" letters, and possessing reactionary printed matter. The Government prohibits freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association, and all forms of cultural and media activities are under the tight control of the party. Radios sold in North Korea receive North Korean radio broadcasts only; radios obtained abroad by the general public must be altered to work in a similar manner. Cable News Network (CNN) television is available in one Pyongyang hotel frequented by foreigners. Under these circumstances, little outside information reaches the public except that approved and disseminated by the Government. The Government restricts freedom of religion, citizens' movements, and worker rights. There were reports of trafficking in women and young girls among refugees and workers crossing the border into China.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Korean Unification
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