Kim Jong-un was formally named head of state of North Korea and commander-in-chief of the military 11 July 2019 in a new constitution observers said was possibly aimed at preparing for a peace treaty with the United States. North Korea long called for a peace deal with the United States to normalize relations and end the technical state of war that has existed since the 1950-1953 Korean War concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
The new constitution, unveiled on the Naenara state portal site on 11 July 2019, said that Kim as chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), a top governing body created in 2016, was "the supreme representative of all the Korean people", which means head of state, and "commander-in-chief". A previous constitution simply called Kim "supreme leader" who commands the country's "overall military force". Previously, North Korea's official head of state was the president of the titular parliament, known as the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly.
Some observers suggested that the changes indicated North Korean planning for signing a peace treaty, since as head of state it would be Kim Jong Un who would actually sign the treaty for the North. He would thus get personal credit, both internationally and domestically, for achieving peace. The new constitution continued to describe North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. In reality Kim, a third-generation hereditary leader, rules North Korea with an iron fist and the title change will mean little to the way he wields power.
the new Constitution’s emphasis on the role of science and technology in developing the nation is revolutionary. “Science technology power is the nation’s most important strategic resource,” the Constitution states, according to Yonhap, and it calls for increasing the share of science and technology in economic activities. In tandem, the new Constitution also mandated that the nation “expand and develop external economic relations,” a broader concept than the previous Constitution’s mandate to “develop external trade.” And it deleted the military-first policy (“songun”) which was mandated in the preamble of the prior Constitution.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is an authoritarian state led by the Kim family for more than 60 years. North Korea is a communist state under the one-man leadership of Kim Jong Un, chairman of the National Defense Commission—the nation’s “highest administrative authority,” supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), and general secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP). The constitution was adopted in 1948, completely revised in December 1972, and revised again in April 1992 and September 1998.
The position of president ceased to exist with the elder Kim’s death in 1994. The premier is head of government (since April 2007) and is assisted by three vice premiers and a cabinet of 27 ministers, all of whom are appointed by the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA). A twenty-eighth minister, the minister of the People’s Armed Forces, is not subordinate to the cabinet but answers directly to Kim Jong Un.
The Three Revolution Teams, created to pursue the ‘Three Revolutions Movement’ stated by the 1972 Socialist Constitution, were dispatched to production facilities at all levels. The teams consisted of 20~50 party members, university students, and scientists. From the 1980s on, the teams came under the direct supervision of Kim Jong-il and were dispatched to all institutional schools to lead the ‘Three Revolutions Movement’. Considering the fact that the dominant post-war generational members from the teams were appointed en masse as SPA members in the 6th KWP meeting in October 1980, it seems the teams were actually created for the purpose of supporting Kim Jong-il’s succession to power. The Three Revolution Teams have shown little activity following the 1990s.
The Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) of North Korea unanimously adopted the ordinance of the SPA On Revising and Supplementing the Socialist Constitution of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea” on April 9, 2009. When last revised in September 1998, the Constitution contained three references to “communism,” but the new revision has deleted the word. The new revision includes six clauses stating the role and authority of the Chairman of the National Defense Commission as “supreme leader” of the country. Kim Jong Il was re-elected as the Chairman of the National Defense Commission, “reflecting the unanimous will of the whole Party and army and all the people,” on the same day the new constitution was approved.
In July 2012 Kim Jong Un was named marshal of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, the late Kim Il Sung, remains “eternal president.” Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces committed human rights abuses.
Citizens did not have the right to change their government. The Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) is the ruling party of North Korea. The secretary general of the KWP is Kim Jong Un, and he runs the party with few formal meetings. North Korea wrapped up its seventh Workers’ Party of Korea Congress with a massive parade and a mass rally, on 10 May 2016 at the Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang. Thousands of North Koreans cheered and applauded when their leader Kim Jong-un appeared at a podium at the square.
The government subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, movement, and worker rights. Reports continued of a vast network of political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh and life threatening and included forced and compulsory labor.
Despite the consolidation of party, state, and military structures under the leadership of one man, some analysts see these three power centers as rivals for power, with the military in the ascendant.
Kim Jong Il was first appointed to the National Defense Commission by his father, President Kim Il Sung, in April 1993, and he was reelected to this position in 1998 and 2003. In true dynastic fashion, Kim Jong Il groomed one or the other of his sons — Kim Jong Chul and Kim Jong Un — as his successor. Signs of possible change in the leadership structure and succession scenario — or at least a reduction in Kim’s personality cult — emerged in the summer and fall of 2004, when reports were received that portraits of Kim Jong Il were being removed from public sites, but nothing came of this.
Traditionally, Koreans never conceived of society as merely an aggregate of individuals, each pursuing private ends, but as a harmonious and collective whole; more important than the individuals composing it. This emphasis on harmony has justified the DPRK government's paternalistic intervention in the lives of the people. In the DPRK today, the dominant ideology is Marxist-Leninist, strongly influenced by traditional Confucian values and Kim Il-song's chuche (self-reliance) ideology.
By Western standards, life in the DPRK is regimented and grim. The centralized party state maintains tight control over all aspects of daily life, and citizens must dedicate their lives to state-defined goals rather than personal interests. Proper attitudes and correct human relations are stressed. It would be a mistake to assume that North Koreans see their lives as harsh and colorless, since the majority have spent their entire life under a totalitarian regime.
While the total number of political prisoners and detainees remained unknown, the current year’s KINU white paper reported that the state detained between 80,000 and 120,000 in the kwanliso. Guards held political prisoners separately from other detainees. NGOs and the media reported that political prisoners were subject to harsher punishments and fewer protections than other prisoners and detainees. The government considered critics of the regime to be political criminals.
"Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been, and are being, committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials. In many instances, the violations of human rights found by the Commission constitute crimes against humanity. These are not mere excesses of the state. They are essential components of a political system that has moved far from the ideals on which it claims to be founded. The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world." (Report A/HRC/25/63, ¶ 80.)
North Korea ranked the lowest in the world when it comes to freedom of expression. In a July 2021 study by British-based human rights organization Article 19, North Korea was the lowest out of 160 countries, and was the only country to get zero points out of one hundred. Syria, Turkmenistan and Eritrea each got one point, followed by China with two points. North Korea has been in the report's lowest category, classed as "in crisis", for eleven straight years. 34 countries, including Russia and Vietnam, fell into the bottom group. Meanwhile, South Korea scored 83 points, and was classed as "Open" the highest possible category.
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