On Dec. 27, North Korea’s Constitution Day, the Workers’ Party of Korea’s mouthpiece, Rodong Sinmun, published an editorial on its front page calling for the thorough implementation of a socialist constitution to further promote and develop the country’s “national social system.”
While constitutions generally provide the basis of governance in a country, communist parties in places such as China, Cuba, and Vietnam, are superior to the state. In other words, the party platforms are regarded as more important than constitutions.
North Korea’s constitution recognizes this fact in Article 11, which states that “the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] shall conduct all activities under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea.”
The question we can pose here, however, is whether the rules and platform espoused by the WPK really represent the norms that take priority in North Korea. That doesn’t actually seem to be the case.
The Rodong Shinmun article noted that North Korea’s constitution – which is referred to as the “Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Constitution” – is the most “unique and magnificent” set of laws in the world.
Not only is North Korea the only country on earth to have named a constitution after its ruling family, but it also uses the phrase “Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism” to describe its communist state system.
This clearly indicates that the words and actions of the Kim family are the laws of the land and form the basis of how laws are interpreted in the country.
In addition, Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s current leader, has the power to revise North Korea’s “Ten Principles for the Establishment of the One-Ideology System.” The clauses establish standards for both the country’s governance and the behaviors of the North Korean people.
As a result, Kim’s words and actions carry the most authority in the country and are crucial in the consolidation of the regime’s political ideology and the country’s class system.
CONSTITUTION FAILS TO GUARANTEE BASIC RIGHTS
Such a state of affairs suggests, however, that North Korea’s constitution is racked with problems. Ultimately, North Korea’s constitution simply pays homage to the hereditary dictatorship and only allows those freedoms and rights that support it.
While typical constitutions generally focus on forestalling abuses of power by national leaders and governments, the North Korean constitution only exists to ensure that nothing will interfere with the Kim family’s dictatorship.
It doesn’t acknowledge the concept of “basic rights” for human beings or provide any rights to individuals who protest or oppose the leadership or the state. The only rights recognized are those of the “Suryong” – the leader.
Countries that adhere to the rule of law have their governments’ authority restricted due to the autonomy of the law and its precedence over everything else. North Korea’s constitution, however, has simply become a tool for the state to maintain absolute power and wield limitless authority.
North Korea’s path to becoming a normal country will require a thorough revamping of its problem-laden constitution and the country’s troubling legal system.
WHERE DOES TRUE POWER IN NORTH KOREA REST?
All of these issues become apparent in several photos and articles recently published on the front pages of the Rodong Sinmun.
One article, for instance, covered a visit of a group of working class people and laborers to the sacred Mount Paektu and its surrounding revolutionary sites just days before the start of the new year. It was the first time in North Korean history for people from such a wide range of class backgrounds to visit the mountain.
However, they hadn’t come at their own choice: Kim Jong Un had told them to come out to the sacred mountain in defiance of international sanctions as well as the cold winter weather. Yet, no one in their right mind could have refused to follow the leader’s order.
The Mount Paektu trip illustrates how the North Korean constitution functions. The fact that all of these representatives felt compelled to obey Kim Jong Un reveals where true power in the country rests.
*Translated by Gabriela Bernal and edited by Laura Geigenberger
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