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 as Secretary General of the KWP and President of North Korea. The latter post was abolished following Kim Il-sung’s death and the title of the Eternal President of the Republic was established and given to Kim Il-sung.
Little is known about the actual lines of power and authority in the North Korean Government despite the formal structure set forth in its 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 KWP in October 1997, and in September 1998, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) reconfirmed Kim Jong-il as Chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC) and declared that position as the "highest office of state." However, the President of the Presidium of the SPA, Kim Yong-nam, serves as the nominal head of state. North Korea's 1972 constitution was amended in late 1992, September 1998, and April 2009.
Three key entities control the government of the D.P.R.K. The cabinet, formerly known as the State Administration Council (SAC), administers the ministries and has a significant role in implementing policy. The cabinet is headed by the premier and is the dominant administrative and executive agency. The NDC is responsible for external and internal security, and under the leadership of Kim Jong-il the NDC has assumed a significant role in influencing policy. The Politburo of the Central People’s Committee is the top policymaking body of the KWP, which also plays a role as the dominant social institution in North Korea.
Officially, the D.P.R.K.’s legislature, the Supreme People’s Assembly, 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 SPA serves only to ratify decisions made by the ruling KWP.
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.
Administratively, North Korea is divided into nine provinces and two provincial-level municipalities--Pyongyang and Nasun (also known as Najin-Sonbong). It also appears to be divided into nine military districts.
Principal Party and Government Officials
Kim Jong-il--General Secretary of the KWP; Supreme Commander of the People's Armed Forces; Chairman of the NDC; son of North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung
Kim Yong-nam--President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly; titular head of state
Han Song-ryol--Ambassador to the D.P.R.K. Permanent Mission to the UN
Pak Ui-chun--Minister of Foreign Affairs
Kim Jong-un--General of the People’s Armed Forces, Vice-Chairman Central Military Commission; son of Kim Jong-Il
Due to its isolationist nature, North Korea’s human rights record is difficult to evaluate. However, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), think tanks, and defectors continue to report that North Korea maintains a record of consistent, severe human rights violations, stemming from the government’s total control over all activity. Reported human rights abuses include arbitrary and lengthy imprisonment, torture and degrading treatment, poor prison conditions (including cases of starvation), forced labor, public executions, prohibitions or severe restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, movement, assembly, religion, and privacy, denial of the right of citizens to change their government, and suppression of workers’ rights. Cases of starvation have been repeatedly documented. All sources of media, such as radio, television, and news organizations, are controlled by the government and heavily censored. Correspondence is strictly monitored and Internet use is limited to the political elite. Cellular phone access is limited to an internal network; international calls are deemed illegal except for the political elite. North Korea is ranked second to last on the World Press Freedom Index.
Type: Highly centralized communist state.
Independence: August 15, 1945--Korean liberation from Japan; September 9, 1948--establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K., or North Korea), marking its separation from the Republic of Korea (R.O.K., or South Korea).
Constitution: 1948; revised in 1972, 1992, 1998, and 2009.
Branches: Executive--President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly (chief of state); Chairman of the National Defense Commission (head of government). Legislative--Supreme People's Assembly. Judicial--Central Court; provincial, city, county, and military courts.
Subdivisions: Nine provinces; two province-level municipalities (Pyongyang, Nasun, or Najin-Sonbong free trade zone); one special city (Nampo), 24 cities.
Political party: Korean Workers' Party (communist).
Suffrage: Universal at 17.
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