The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
North Korea is not a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
There is no regional human rights treaty in Asia to which North Korea could adhere.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 67 of the 1972 Constitution of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea guarantees to its citizens freedom of assembly, demonstration, and association.
Freedom of assembly is not recognised in practice, and participants in any unauthorised gatherings are subject to severe punishment, including prison sentences.
Under Article 59 of the Criminal Law, which concerns conspiracy to subvert the state,
A person who, with anti-state purposes, participates in a coup d’etat, riot, demonstration or assault, or takes part in a conspiracy shall be punished by reform through labour for more than five years.
In cases where the person commits a grave offence, he or she shall be punished by life-term of reform through labour, or the death penalty and confiscation of property.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
North Korean police will disperse any unlawful gathering as a matter of course.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
There is not believed to be national legislation in place in North Korea restricting police use of firearms.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
North Korea has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years. In its 2019 National Report submitted in the context of its Universal Periodic Review under the Human Rights Council, North Korea did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
In his 2019 report to the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea called on the state to:
Create an environment for progress in the human rights situation where people have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression and opinion, right to association and assembly, participate in public affairs, are protected from the arbitrary implementation of the law...
The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea documented in great detail the wide-ranging array of crimes against humanity being committed in North Korea. The report, which was presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2014, stated that:
The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.