Korea, North


(Democratic People's Republic of Korea)

1 Conscription

conscription exists

Conscription is enshrined in art. 86 of the 1992 Constitution, which states: "National defense is a supreme duty and honour for citizens. Citizens must defend the fatherland and serve in the military as stipulated by law." According to art. 85: "Citizens must always raise their revolutionary vigilance and must struggle with all their efforts for the security of the state." The former constitution contained similar provisions.

The legal basis of conscription is the 1957 Military Conscription law.

North Korea's defence policy is based on the Four-Point Military Lines, a programme drawn up in 1963 and including goals like 'equipping all people with arms' and 'transforming the whole country into an impregnable fortress'. Art 60. of the 1992 Constitution makes similar points: "The state pursues a self-reliant national defence line, built upon the foundation of arming all the military and all the people politically and ideologically, with arming all the populace, turning the entire country in a fortress, (...)". Furthermore all the country's materials and facilities are in a permanent state of mobilisation, even in peacetime. Not surprisingly North Korea has been described as one big military camp. [5]

The North Korean state mobilises its citizens two or three times via various institutions. Military service is performed in the regular armed forces. In additions all citizens are obliged to serve in various paramilitary bodies.

- The worker and peasant red guard (formed in 1959) is responsible for the security of towns and villages and has units in every town, village, neighbourhood, college and workplace. In wartime the worker and peasant red guard is required to wage guerrilla war against the occupiers.

- The red youth guard (formed in 1970) is regarded as a spiritual guide and mentor to the worker and peasant guard and has units at every high school. As backup to the army it is expected to perform shock or suicide attacks at times of emergency.

- The pacification corps is responsible for guarding certain vital areas and facilities and has units in workplaces and schools. In wartime it can be integrated into the army.

These paramilitary forces are all provided with arms (the pacification corps with division-level heavy equipment and the worker and peasant red guard with regiment-level equipment) and hold joint exercises with the regular armed forces. [5]

military service

All men between the age of 18 and 24 are liable for military service. [2]

Military service lasts for five to eight years in the army, five to ten years in the navy and three to four years in the air force. [2]

Reservist obligations apply until the age of 60. Until they are 40, reservists serve in the pacification corps. Annual training hours are believed to be 500. Between the ages of 40 and 60 reservists serve in the worker and peasant red guard. Annual training hours are believed to be 160.

Between the ages of 14 and 16 all high school students receive basic military training in the red youth guard. Annual training hours are believed to be 288. [2] [5]

Women are not liable for regular military service, but all women must undergo annual and occasional military training until they are 40. [3]

postponement and exemption

There are no known details on regulations allowing postponement of, and exemption from military service.


Call-up for military service takes place at the age of 18.

2 Conscientious objection

The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognized and there are no provisions for substitute service. [3]

3 Draft evasion and desertion


Draft evasion and desertion are punishable under the Penal Code.

The Penal Code lists 24 capital offences. Usually the death-sentence can be imposed only if the crime is accompanied by aggravating circumstances, was committed to assist the enemy, or was committed in the course of combat or in wartime. The death-sentence applies for (among other things) going absent without leave for up to six hours in the case of a private or non-commissioned officer (arts. 272 and 274); for more than 24 hours in the case of anyone (arts. 273 and 274); for abandoning or deserting a unit or post (arts. 275, 276, 277).

Military trials are conducted by special military courts. [1]


It is not known whether there have ever been any draft evaders and deserters in North Korea.

The death-sentence has been much used during certain periods. Between 1958 and 1960, for instance, some 9,000 people were sentenced to death for a variety of reasons. [1]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces are 1,055,000-strong - that is, 4.27 percent of the population. The reserve forces comprise 4,700,000 people (19 percent of the population), of whom 3,500,000 are in the worker and peasant red guard. [2]

Every year approximately 215,000 men reach conscription age. [2]


[1] Asia Watch/Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee 1988. Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Washington/Minneapolis. [2] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London. [3] Amnesty International 1991. Conscientious objection to military service. AI, London. [4] Nahm, Andrew C. 1993. Introduction to Korean history and culture. Hollym, Seoul. [5] National Unification Board 1988. A Comparative Study of South and North Korea. Seoul.


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