Transnational law and borders in the Korean peninsula and beyond


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy - PhD




This dissertation analyzes the ways in which internal, national, and international borders are embedded, constructed, and reinforced in the legal frameworks, enforcement patterns, and discursive practices on the Korean peninsula and beyond. Through a series of focused case studies on particular border sites, this dissertation reveals the ways in which law, as material reality, ideology, metaphor, and technology, enables and disables the movement of persons, things, and symbols across borders. The case studies begin with those borders constructed within and between two Koreas and then move outward to those that limit the movement of people beyond the Korean peninsula. The first case study analyzes North Korea’s efforts to regulate internal migrations through systems of residence registration, labor allocation, and travel certificates as part of its centrally planned economy. The dissertation then turns to the attempt to relocate a capital city in South Korea and the ways in which laws and practices, including written and customary constitutions, act as gatekeepers in Pyongyang and Seoul. The following chapter analyses the gendered construction of the “Socialist Big Family” in North Korea, paying particular attention to the manner in which borders are constructed to contain the female body. The dissertation then moves to an analysis of the law making it a criminal offence in North Korea to cross the national border, and draws on the legal response to the practices of East German border guards in using firearms to prevent the movement of people across the Berlin Wall. Further, in an attempt to understand the refugee border, the dissertation examines asylum cases on illegal exit from other countries in the U.S. to consider the possibility for North Korean asylum seekers. It assesses the work of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board in determining North Korean refugee claims from 1990 to 2011. In the final case study, I apply a gendered analysis of the definition of refugee in international law to the restrictions on the right to leave North Korea. To conclude, legal relations between and within borders are mutually exclusive as well as interconnected, and daily border-crossings challenge the existing legal structure for transnational justice.

Date Available



Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada




Law, Faculty of