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North Korean Law

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Every now and again, a headline about North Korea will crop up in the news. Such stories are rarely followed by any debate; regardless of where you lie on the political spectrum, you will probably agree that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is an extremely unpleasant place. It is often used as the yardstick against which all other unpleasant places are measured, and there is general consensus that no matter where one goes, one will never find oneself anywhere quite as bad. But considering our universal perception of North Korea as a horrible country, the average person seems to know surprisingly little about how it actually functions. Does it have a constitution? What kinds of laws are in place? How are they enforced? How severe are the punishments? This article aims to answer all of these questions, and fill in some of the knowledge gaps that are inevitably created when people form opinions based on hearsay.

The answer to the first question is yes; North Korea has a constitution. At glance, the “Socialist Constitution of the DPRK” appears quite liberal. Under Article 67, citizens are entitled to freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of demonstration and of association. The same Article promises that the State shall guarantee conditions for the free activity of democratic political parties and social organisations. Article 69 even permits citizens to submit complaints and petitions, while Article 75 allows them freedom to reside in and travel to any place. Tragically, the inhabitants of North Korea enjoy none of these things. All media is owned by the government, and all domestic journalists are members of the Workers’ Party of Korea (the only recognised political party). The state strictly controls the material accessible to the population, and possession of anything other than this material is punishable by death. Shockingly, this behaviour is justified under the very same constitution; Articles 81 and 82 call for adherence to a “spirit of devotion” to the State, thus making compliance with government ideals mandatory. Any liberties promised in the rest of the document are therefore withdrawn.

In addition to the constitution, the behaviour of North Koreans is guided by the Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System. These consist of a set of ten rules and 65 clauses, which establish absolute loyalty and obedience to Kim Jong-un and his family. The principles can be seen as the most essential tool in understanding North Korean society. They must be memorised by every citizen. Obligatory evaluation meetings are held every two weeks, at which people conduct self-criticism sessions to determine how well they have put the Principles into practice. Violating them is, of course, a serious offence. (It is also very easy to do; so much as making a tear in a piece of paper with Kim Jong-un’s name printed on it is considered a crime worse than murder.)

The responsibility for internal security in North Korea falls upon the Ministry of People’s Security and the State Security Department. Activities of the Ministry include maintaining law and public order, dealing with criminal cases, monitoring citizens’ political attitudes, and protecting members of the government. There are approximately 27 bureaus, but only some of their names and functions are known. For example, the Security Bureau is responsible for ordinary law enforcement and most police functions, while the Investigation Bureau handles criminal investigations. The State Security Department handles political security and reports directly to Kim Jong-un. It seeks out antistate criminals (those accused of anti-government activities) and manages camps for political prisoners. It also runs overseas intelligence operations. Surveillance of citizens, both physical and electronic, is often employed as a means of keeping order.

A common theme in North Korean law enforcement is eventual sentencing to death. Capital punishment is a favourite deterrent strategy of the government, and is used for many offences including murder, rape, espionage, treason, consumption of media not approved by the government, and theft. Executions are carried out in public, either by firing squad, hanging, or decapitation. North Korea is one of the five remaining countries in the world to carry out public executions, along with Saudi Arabia and Syria. In the past, the government has been known to execute up to 80 people in just one day. Those who escape the death penalty end up in North Korean prisons. However, this makes little difference to their fate; conditions in prison camps are so bad that few prisoners stay alive for more than three years. As a result of these harsh and unpredictable punishments, citizens are desperate to obey the law. Most North Koreans are unaware of the existence of lawyers, and for the few who manage to hire an attorney, the probability of being struck by lightning is higher than that of acquittal. Police officers take advantage of this ignorance, and regularly demand bribes in return for reductions in sentences. This results in the poor facing harsh punishments for petty crimes, while the rich can get away with much more.

It is difficult to collect precise statistics, as the North Korean government is notoriously secretive about the extent of human rights abuse taking place within the country. However, it appears that the case of North Korea is one of the few where the views of the status quo reflect what is really going on. If anything, this article points to the conclusion that things are actually worse than we think. I urge any readers to conduct their own research into the DPRK. The next time it comes up in the news, perhaps we will be able to say more than brush it off as “the worst place in the world”.

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Legal Reform: Social Norms and Technology

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In the same way that photoreceptors in your eye respond to light, law responds to the stimulus of social pressure and technological advances. Take smoking as a first example. Rising drastically during the First and Second World War, the number of adults smoking cigarettes by 1949 amounted to approximately 81% of the male population and 39% of the female population. In the mid-20th century, smoking was seen as a social norm, with many advertisements oblivious to the health detriments caused by smoking. Notable slogans claimed fabricated benefits: “for digestion’s sake”, “a feeling of well-being”, and “throat protection against cough irritation”.

It was not until a 1950 report published in the British Medical Journal that evidential research was found, linking smoking with the formation of lung cancer. This was the first of a chain of research that changed the way both doctors and the public viewed smoking, resulting in social pressure for legal reform, in which the government was forced to respond to. In 1965, a ban on television cigarette advertisement was implemented, progressing to a complete advertisement ban in 2005 and most significantly an end to smoking in public was enforced in July 2007. More recently, the debate over cannabis legislation is a hot topic for future debate, with 26 US states currently legalising marijuana in some form. As scientific research progresses in this field of study, perhaps society’s attitudes towards cannabis may change, prompting further legal reform.

New crimes were necessary as computing became more prominent towards the end of the 20th century. The Computer Misuse Act 1990 served as a response to the rise in cyber-crime, most significantly hacking. Further legislation brought in targeted identity fraud and harassment over the web, encompassing cyber-bullying although it has no specific mention. Moreover, the development of cars and their sudden surge in frequency led to more common traffic accidents. Subsequently, laws were implemented to make driving on the roads a safer experience, with drink driving, mobile phone usage, and speeding all becoming new additions to criminal law in the UK.

To conclude, law has successfully evolved in line with social norms and technological developments in order to protect society and respond to pressure from reformist groups. It is vital that the law regularly adapts to modernisation, to prevent a backwards legal system and to protected the welfare of the majority.

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Recent Case of Charlie Gard – Who Knows Best?

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doctors vs judges

The recent Charlie Gard case that has flooded international news is characteristic of the intricate, global controversy: who has the right over life?

Infant Charlie Gard was born with an extremely rare genetic defect known as MDDS, which irreversibly deteriorated his condition to severe brain damage, immobility, deafness and ventilation by artificial means alone. Established under The Children Act 1989, institutional authorities (hospitals, governments) were assigned with giving the final decision on whether a young patient could live, designed to safeguard parents from protecting their own needs rather than what was best for their child.

Whilst Charlie’s parents wanted their precious child to live, all courts of appellate jurisdiction, along with the doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital, at which Charlie was kept on the life support, thought it was in Charlie’s best interests to end his life rather than allow his quality of life to be irrevocably poor.

So, who should we trust to give the final say about a child’s well-being? Should families, who have given birth to the child, their possession, be given the legal responsibility to overrule the state in their decision? Of course, this brings moral implications, such that the parents would not want to say goodbye to their child and therefore not act in his/her’s best interests.

Let’s now bring in another scenario, whereby the patient is of adult age. Tony Bland sustained detrimental injuries from the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, which left him in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) until his death in 1993. It was eventually ruled in the House of Lords that the Artificial Nutrition and Hydration (ANH), that was prolonging him living, should end to allow Bland to “die in dignity” (Court order). This case differs from the Charlie Gard case as both the parents and the doctors thought withdrawing ANH was in Tony’s best interests.

Despite differences, the Bland case elucidates the complexity involved in euthanasia cases in the UK. Was it morally right for the state to prevent Gard’s parents from allowing experimental treatment to be made in the hope of keeping their son alive, despite his physical and mental state? Was it morally right for the court to give consent to the withdrawal of ANH and allow Tony to die? How would the result differ if it was unsure how long he would be in a vegetative state for?

Let us assess one last scenario. Terminally ill man Noel Conway, aged 67, launched a legal challenge for his own right to die. He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, which has meant his ability to move, dress, eat and even breathe has irrevocably diminished. Noel condemned Section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961, which prohibited assisted suicide (voluntary euthanasia) under UK law, outlining his deteriorating quality of life and the prospect of “unimaginable suffering”. As he strongly remarks, “Current law means that I will have no control of how my life ends”.

We are once again asking ourselves where ultimate authority lies in determining the end of one’s life. This global complexity should never be looked on lightly and all cases of similar note should be looked at distinctly and intricately.

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After Taiwan, What’s Next For Asia?

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LGBT rights in Asia

T​aiwan has long been home to Asia’s most spirited LGBT communities, with the hashtag #TaiwanGayMarriageLegalization attracting over 11 million views on China’s Weibo. The country ​has recently joined the United States, Canada and 18 others to rule in favor towards ​constitutional protection of same-sex marriage. But the question of what it symbolises in Asia remains unresolved.

If the law functions to balance the need for stability with the demand for progress, Taiwan’s ​announcement from May acts as a positive testament. The decision favoring constitutional protection confirms growing momentum in the country, where child adoption by unmarried same-sex couples is becoming increasingly popular. Yet until the legislation was passed, only one individual can be recognised as a legal guardian. A condensed look reveals that legalising marriage is bound to cultural and political acceptance more deeply than economic concerns. It implies that the parliament has two years to amend laws regarding same-sex marriages. If not, couples will be permitted to register under the current framework. Both mothers or fathers of the adopted child could be entitled to equal welfare and property benefits.

Around the world, controversies surrounding alternative ideas from LGBT to the businesses of Uber and AirBnB have demonstrated the difficulty of balance. Taiwan’s ruling is undoubtedly a landmark for changing attitudes in Asia, but what does it signify for the rest of the hemisphere, where responses to minority cultural views remain conservative? Although attitudes to homosexuality were relatively liberal during the imperial times in mainland China, the ​Communist revolution in 1949 led to more cautious attitudes. Despite having it removed from the list of “mental disorders” in 2001, the stigma remains. Naturally, responses from China have been two-folded. Some are excited by the milestone, but others remain disheartened to the possibility of achieving legislative change. While many were still rejoicing shortly after the Taiwanese ruling, China’s most iconic lesbian socialising platform ‘Rela’ was shut down without explanation.

Likewise, although LGBT is not prohibited in the South Korean constitution, many remain closeted due to pressure from cultural traditions. But this is understandable, when some of the largest mobile corporations in the country have agreed to ​remove homosexual dating apps on the market, and a presidential candidate openly attacks gay soldiers for “weakening the country’s military.” Whether the rest of Asia could follow Taiwan’s footsteps as the social forerunner is still open to question, and it is certainly unjustified to generalise one of the largest and most diverse continents with a handful of examples. But one can be certain that ​LGBT continues to grow as an influential social dynamic in many Asian societies. ​Although t​he tug of war between traditional cultural views and changing public opinion will persist, ​Taiwan’s ruling could induce a chain effect in the long term.

When asking the youth “what do you dream of the world,” perhaps many would speak of tolerance. Such an abstract idea will undoubtedly carry a fluid definition, but obscurity is both its limitation and its beauty. The road to constitutional desegregation in the United states during in the 20th century was a difficult journey back and forth, and the same will go for LGBT in our time. But acceptance, before any legislative change is the first step that can go a long way. Regardless of whether one is in support of Taiwan’s ruling, it is an optimistic sign that ​societies are increasingly being warmed to the rights of gender and sexuality minorities through activism. It signifies not only acceptance of LGBT, but acceptance of cultural differences and their rights to equality before the law.

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