Law in Contemporary Society

Behind the North Korea Criminal Law

-- By JosephLu - 27 Feb 2009

I have revised this paper as part of the second-paper assignment.

The Penal Code of North Korea Reveals the Problems of the Government Itself

North Korea enforces a penal code which regards as crimes many behaviors that are commonly regarded as legal in other countries and imposes particularly draconian punishments. The main reason for the existence of such a hyper-draconian penal code is the North Korean government’s need for self-defense. This fact leads to the following conclusion: normally, a country’s penal code reveals the “pathology” of the people in that particular country—that is, the criminal problems that need to be addressed in that society. However, the Penal Code of North Korea reveals less of the pathology of North Korean people but more of the pathology of the North Korea government itself—that is, the problems of the leadership of North Korea and the predicament North Korea is currently faced with under this leadership.

The Penal Code Recognizes as Crimes Many Behaviors That Is Legitimate in Most Other Countries

An examination of grave offenses in North Korea would reveal the inhumane and disproportionate nature of the Penal Code. The punishment for a grave offense is either life imprisonment in a reform institution or capital punishment. What is even more astonishing is the “crimes” that grave offenses may entail. For instance, the grave offenses include leaving North Korea multiple times without proper authorization, meeting with foreigners without proper authorization, and returning to North Korea with the intention of becoming a Christian missionary. Unreasonable this “crime” is, yet the more intriguing question is: why such behavior that is totally acceptable in the vast majority of other countries, would be regarded as a “grave offense” in North Korea?

The North Korea Leadership Enacted the Code for Self-Defense

Intimidation would, of course, be an explanation. The severely disproportional punishment seems to support this explanation. However, the fact that effective notice (for example, apprising citizenry of changes in the Penal Code) is absent proves that North Korea is pursuing something beyond mere intimidation by the Penal Code, namely, literally removing those who engage in such behaviors from the society. Through the offense exemplified above, the North Korean government seeks to remove those who have contacted foreigners and those who would spread foreign religions within North Korea from the rest of the North Korean people. The reason is certainly not because such behaviors are culpable, at least not culpable based on commonly accepted human values. The reason is that the North Korea government, or more precisely, the North Korea leadership is afraid of the impact of such conduct: contact with foreigners brings some knowledge about the world outside of North Korea which would probably break down the creed the leadership would like its people to believe, and the force of religion is simply too dangerous because it gives North Koreans a god other than the leader himself. Both situation would spread the seeds of independent thinking among the North Korean people and therefore substantially undermine the state’s dictatorship regime.

The Need for Such a Code Reveals the Difficulties of the Leadership in Sustaining Its Dictatorship

Draconian laws are needed in unrest societies. Indeed, there might be a symbolic goal behind the Penal Code—that is, the North Korea leadership wants to show to the world or maybe its people that its infallible governance has resulted in an “absolutely peaceful society.” It may also be reasonable to deduce from the Code’s hyper-draconian nature that the Code would eventually negate itself since the North Korean people would not even dare to commit a crime due to the unproportionate punishment. However, North Korea’s constant ignorance of its image in the global community makes it more likely that such a draconian penal code serves the function on a much deeper level. The need for such a penal code indicates that the state has been deep in trouble sustaining such a dictatorship regime, maintaining stability of its society, and solve the problems of its people. Therefore, the ultimate goal of North Korea leadership in adopting the Penal Code is in fact self-defense—that is, defending itself against toppling over by using the Penal Code to keep its people ignorant of the world outside of North Korea, to maintain its people’s blind belief in the state’s leadership, and to remove those who actually think and question the leadership because they are facing difficulties and poverty in their lives. As long as the need of the leadership to defend its own survival, the Penal Code would be kept to serve that purpose.

The Code Reveals Not the Pathology of North Korean People, But that of the Government

Therefore, the major function of the Penal Code, namely, preserving the North Korea government itself, would help the world reveal the pathology of the state, or more precisely, of the leadership of the state rather than help people discover the social criminal problems of North Koreans as a whole. Under normal circumstances, at least in democratic, modernized countries, criminal law, just as C. Oliver Robinson proposed, “represents civilization’s pathology.” Based on this proposition, people would generally find it helpful to identify the values and problems of a society. The issue of whether adultery should be criminalized is a vivid example that the criminal laws in different countries reveals different values and address different problems. However, a research into North Korea’s Penal Code would reveal not the criminal problems of the society as a whole, but the insecurity of the North Korea leadership itself—the insecurity which results from the inability of the state’s leadership to solve the problems of its people and to lead the country forward.


The hyper-draconian Penal Code of North Korea functions to prolong the life of its current dictatorship regime. The need for such penal law signifies the incompetence of its current leadership to serve the best interests of its people. A research into the Penal Code may be helpful in finding the ways to facilitate the reform of North Korea, if the time comes.

  • I have trouble seeing what your editorial plan was, in what way you were trying to improve on the first draft, and how you accomplished your goal. I thought the first draft made its points pretty clearly, and your rewrite didn't seem to me to have changed the agenda, though I found it less easy to follow this draft than the last one.


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r3 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:26:59 - IanSullivan
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