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The Peninsula

What North Korea Can Learn from the Magna Carta

Published June 15, 2015
Author: Mark Tokola
Category: North Korea

By Mark Tokola

Ceremonies are being held in the UK to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.  On June 15, 1215, in Runnymede, England, King John and a group of rebel barons agreed to a contract, drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury , that placed limits on the King’s power.  Historians will point out that this “great charter” (Magna Carta) was not the first time that monarchs had been forced to agree to restrictions on their abilities to exercise arbitrary power, but the Magna Carta has assumed a special place among the world’s political documents because among its clauses it created protections from illegal imprisonment, guaranteed swift access to justice, and imposed limitations on the monarch’s ability to tax at will.  In a fundamental way, the Magna Carta established the principle that rulers as well as the ruled were subject to law.

The Magna Carta went on to have global influence.  The American Declaration of Independence and Constitution consciously drew on the Magna Carta, and the American Constitution went on to have its own great influence over the drafters of constitutions around the world during the subsequent two hundred years.

The Magna Carta continues to have relevance after 800 years, as an embodiment of the principle of rule of law, and as an inspiration to supporters of constitutionalism and defenders of human rights.  Among the charges leveled against the North Korean regime are some of the same charges that the English barons leveled against King John: that he had imprisoned people arbitrarily and held them without trial.  We know that the DPRK is wrong to do so in part because of the global inheritance of the 1215 Magna Carta and the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights.  Happy Birthday, Magna Carta!

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from the Surrey County Council News’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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