Human rights in North Korea: Wikis


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North Korea

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The human rights record of North Korea is extremely difficult to fully assess due to the secretive and closed nature of the country. The North Korean government makes it very difficult for foreigners to enter the country and strictly monitors their activities when they do. Aid workers are subject to considerable scrutiny and excluded from places and regions the government does not wish them to enter. Since citizens cannot freely leave the country,[1][2] it is mainly from stories of refugees and defectors that the nation's human rights record has been constructed. The government's position, expressed through the Korean Central News Agency, is that North Korea has no human rights issue, because its socialist system was chosen by the people and serves them faithfully.[3][4]

While it is difficult to piece together a clear picture of the situation within the country, it is overwhelmingly clear that the government of North Korea controls virtually all activities within the nation. Citizens are not allowed to freely speak their minds and the government detains those who criticize the regime.[5] The only radio, television, and news organizations that are deemed legal are those operated by the government. The media, as with Kim Il-sung[6], universally praise the administration of Kim Jong-Il.[7][8]

A number of human rights organizations and governments have condemned North Korea's human rights record, including Amnesty International and the United Nations, which passed a General Assembly resolution in 2008.[9] In its 2006 country report on North Korea, the American government-funded[10] Freedom House alleged that the country "is a totalitarian dictatorship."[11] Freedom House categorized North Korea as "Not Free". North Korea has charged that that those who make allegations about human rights in the country are interfering in the country's internal affairs and trying to force down their values.[12]

In 2004, the United States government adopted the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which attacked North Korea and outlined steps the United States should take towards North Korea. With the exception of the international abductions issue regarding Japanese, Americans, and South Koreans, which it says has been fully resolved, North Korea strongly rejects all reports of human rights violations and accuses the defectors of lying and promoting a pro-West agenda.[13]


Civil liberties

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has officially acknowledged the widespread human rights violations that regularly occur in North Korea. The following section is a direct quote from the United Nation's Human Rights Resolution 2005/11 referring specifically to occurrences in North Korea:

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, public executions, extra judicial and arbitrary detention, the absence of due process and the rule of law, imposition of the death penalty for political reasons, the existence of a large number of prison camps and the extensive use of forced labour;

Sanctions on citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who have been repatriated from abroad, such as treating their departure as treason leading to punishments of internment, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or the death penalty;

All-pervasive and severe restrictions on the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association and on access of everyone to information, and limitations imposed on every person who wishes to move freely within the country and travel abroad;

Continued violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women, in particular the trafficking of women for prostitution or forced marriage, ethnically motivated forced abortions, including by labour inducing injection or natural delivery, as well as infanticide of children of repatriated mothers, including in police detention centres and labour training camps.[14]

Freedom of expression

The North Korean constitution has clauses guaranteeing the freedoms of speech and assembly.[15] In practice other clauses take precedence, including the requirement that citizens follow a socialist way of life. Criticism of the government and its leaders is strictly curtailed and making such statements can be cause for arrest and consignment to one of North Korea's "re-education" camps. The government distributes all radio and television sets; citizens are forbidden to alter them to make it possible to receive broadcasts from other nations, and doing so carries draconian penalties.

There are numerous civic organizations but all of them appear to be operated by the government. All routinely praise the government and perpetuate the personality cults of Kim Jong-il and his deceased father Kim Il-sung. Defectors indicate that the promotion of the cult of personality is one of the primary functions of almost all films, plays, and books produced within the country.

Freedom of religion

Though the North Korean government estimates that there are 100,000 Buddhists, 10,000 Protestants, and 4,000 Catholics worshiping at 500 churches, it is unknown if there are any Catholic priests in the country and some reports indicate that the religious organizations that do exist are primarily meant to facilitate interaction with other nations. It is known that in China near the border with North Korea, a number of Christian organizations have been active, helping refugees and, by many reports, smuggling in Bibles and other religious material.

The government was concerned that faith-based South Korean relief and refugee assistance efforts along the northeast border of China had both humanitarian and political goals, including overthrow of the regime. Defectors cite instances of execution of individuals involved with the Bible smuggling.[16] It is also claimed that North Korean refugees who convert to Christianity in China, and then are later forcibly repatriated into North Korea by Chinese authorities, are routinely sent to prison camps or executed.[17][18]

There are actually four churches in Pyongyang—two Christian Protestant churches[citation needed], a Catholic church, and a Russian Orthodox church. However, it has been claimed by North Korean defectors that these churches are façades filled with government workers, and used to convince foreign aid workers and tourists in Pyongyang that North Korea is a free society.

Freedom of movement

Usually, North Korean citizens cannot freely travel around the country or go abroad.[1][2] Only the political elite may own vehicles and the government limits access to fuel and other forms of transportation. (Satellite photos of North Korea show an almost complete lack of vehicles on all of the roads.) Forced resettlement of citizens and families, especially as punishment for political reasons, is said to be routine.[19]

Only the most politically reliable and healthiest citizens are allowed to live in Pyongyang. Those who are suspected of sedition, or have family members suspected of it, are removed from the city; similar conditions affect those who are physically or mentally disabled in some way. This can be a significant method of coercion as food and housing are said to be much better in the capital city.

Freedom of the press

North Korea is currently ranked second to last (ahead of Eritrea) on the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.[20] The constitution of North Korea provides for freedom of the press, however in practice all media is strictly controlled by the government. The national media is focused almost entirely on political propaganda and the promotion of a the personality cults surrounding Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.[21] It emphasizes historical grievances towards the the United States and Japan. According to the North Korean government's account of history, the country was the victim of aggression during the Korean War by the United States, while historians from the West say that it was North Korea that started the war.[22]

Reporters Without Borders claims that radio or television sets which can be bought in North Korea are pre-set to receive only the government frequencies and sealed with a label to prevent tampering with the equipment. It is a serious criminal offense to manipulate the sets and receive radio or television broadcasts from outside North Korea. In a party campaign in 2003 the head of each party cell in neighbourhoods and villages received instructions to verify the seals on all radio sets.[20]

As North and South Korea use different television systems (PAL and NTSC respectively), it is not possible to view broadcasts across the border between the two countries; however, in areas bordering China, it has reportedly been possible to receive television from that country.

Minority rights

North Korea's population is one of the world's most ethnically homogenous and today immigration is almost non-existent. Among the few immigrants that have willingly gone to North Korea are Japanese spouses (generally wives) of Koreans who returned from Japan from 1955 to the early 1980s. These Japanese have been forced to assimilate and for the most part, the returnees overall are reported to have not been fully accepted into North Korean society (with a few exceptions, such as those who became part of the government) and instead ended up on the fringes, including concentration camps mentioned below. Foreigners who visit the country are generally strictly monitored and forbidden to enter certain locations.[23]

Disabled rights

On March 22, 2006, the Associated Press reported from South Korea that a North Korean doctor who defected, Ri Kwang-chol, has claimed that babies born with physical defects are rapidly put to death and buried.[24] An United Nations report also mentions how disabled people are allegedly "rounded up" and sent to "special camps."[25] People diagnosed with autism and other related disorders are often persecuted.[25]

Forced prostitution

The state forcibly drafts girls as young as 14 years to work in the so-called kippŭmjo that includes prostitution teams. The source used is unclear as to whether only adult kippŭmjo are assigned to prostitution or whether there is prostitution of children – other kippŭmjo activities are massaging and half-naked singing and dancing. Many are “ordered to marry guards of Kim Jong-il or national heroes” when they are 25 years old.[26]

Criminal justice

Public executions

The DPRK resumed public executions in October 2007 after they had declined in the years following 2000 amidst international criticism. Prominent executed criminals include officials convicted of drug trafficking and embezzlement.

In October 2007, a South Pyongan province factory chief convicted of making international phone calls from 13 phones he installed in his factory basement was executed by firing squad in front of a crowd of 150,000 people in a stadium. In another instance, 15 people were publicly executed for crossing into China.[27]

Reports from the aid agency "Good Friends" also said that six were killed in the crush as spectators left.

A U.N. General Assembly committee has adopted a draft resolution, co-sponsored by more than 50 countries, expressing "very serious concern" at reports of widespread human rights violations in North Korea, including public executions. The DPRK has condemned the draft, saying it was inaccurate and biased, but it was still sent to the 192-member General Assembly for a final vote.[28]

The prison system

The U.S. government claimed that prison conditions in North Korea "were harsh and life threatening, and torture occurred. Pregnant female prisoners underwent forced abortions in some cases, and in other cases babies were killed upon birth in prisons."[29] The U.S. government alleged that North Korea's government detains, tortures and imprisons thousands of individuals who are either dissidents or alleged saboteurs.

The administration of Kim Jong-il maintains that it does not do any of these things.[citation needed] Many refugees have come forward and recounted stories which describe conditions within the country. The government is accused of employing political prison camps, believed to hold as many as 200,000 inmates, including children whose only crime is having "class enemies" for relatives.[citation needed] There have been widespread reports from North Korean refugees of forced abortion, infanticide, and famine in these prison camps. Extreme physical abuse is common (beatings often result in death).[19][30][31]

In 2002, a North Korean defector and former communist party official, named Lee Soon Ok, gave testimony before a committee of the United States House of Representatives on her own treatment within North Korea's criminal system. She reported extensive torture, including the loss of eight teeth and permanent facial paralysis. She also reported that she was tried in a "kangaroo court" for insubordination and sentenced to 13 years in a prison camp. She received unusually light treatment because of her background as an accountant. According to her statement, "I testify that most of the 6,000 prisoners who were there when I arrived in 1987 had quietly perished under the harsh prison conditions by the time I was released in 1992." She reported numerous tortures and deaths of individuals in her camp, including the killing of the babies and unborn children of women in the camp upon their arrival. Her testimony is consistent with many other reports.[32]

A 2004 BBC documentary also reported that in one of these camps, North Korea tests chemical weapons on prisoners in a gas chamber.[33] Life in the camps has been covered in several other documentaries, such as The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan.

Known location of prison camps

The following is a list of some known and prominent locations of North Korean prison camps, but is by no means exhaustive:[34]


North Korean propaganda tactics heavily glorify Kim Jong-Il and his father, who are referred to as the "Dear Leader" and the "Great Leader" respectively. Also many of the North Koreans believe that Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il "created the world" and can "control the weather".[36] Following the death of Kim Il-Sung, North Koreans were forced to fall to the ground crying and cling to a bronze statue of him in an organized event.[37]


Famine and the food distribution system

In the aftermath of the Korean War and throughout the 1960s and '70s, the country's state-controlled economy industrialized with heavy subsidy from the Soviet Union. The country struggled into the 1990s, primarily due to the loss of strategic trade arrangements with the USSR[38] and strained relations with China - following China's normalization with South Korea in 1992.[39] In addition, North Korea experienced record-breaking floods (1995 and 1996) followed by several years of equally severe drought beginning in 1997.[40] This, compounded with only 18 percent arable land[41] and an inability to import the goods necessary to sustain industry,[42] led to an immense famine and left North Korea in economic shambles. The famine resulted in the death of around 600,000 people.[43]

By 1999, food and development aid reduced famine deaths. In the spring of 2005, the World Food Program reported that famine conditions were in imminent danger of returning to North Korea, and the government was reported to have ordered millions of city-dwellers to the countryside to perform farm labour.[44] In 2005, the agricultural situation showed signs of improvement, rising 5.3% to 4.54 million tons; this was largely the result of increased donations of fertilizers from South Korea. However, the World Food Program stated that this was short of the estimated 6 million tons necessary to adequately feed the population. Nevertheless, North Korea called for food aid to cease, and shipments of food to the country ended on December 31 of that year.[45] In the same period, news sources reported that North Korea continued to raise food prices while reducing food rations.[46]

North Korea's society is highly stratified by class, according to a citizen's family and political background.[19] Refugees International, Médecins Sans Frontières, and Amnesty International have all accused North Korea of discriminating against those in "hostile" classes in the distribution of basic necessities, including food. In some "closed" areas that contained a higher concentration of "hostile" class members, the government appears to have prevented the delivery of significant amounts of food aid.

North Korea maintains a massive military machine and supports an extravagant lifestyle for its leader, Kim Jong-Il.[47] Before the cessation of food shipments at the end of 2005, the World Food Program sought $200 million in emergency food aid for North Korea, an increase from its 2004 request of $171 million.[48] By comparison, its 2002 defense budget was $5.2 billion according to the CIA World Factbook.

International abductions

In the decades after the Korean War there were reports that North Korea had abducted many foreign nationals, mainly South Koreans and Japanese. For years these were dismissed as conspiracy theories even by many of the regime's critics; however, in September 2002, Kim Jong-Il acknowledged the involvement of North Korean "special institutions" in the kidnapping of Japanese citizens in the late 1970s and early 1980s to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. He stated that those responsible had been punished.[49] Five surviving victims were allowed to visit Japan and decided not to return to North Korea. For eight more Japanese abductees, officials claimed deaths caused by accidents or illnesses; Japan says this leaves two still unaccounted for, and says that what the North claimed were the ashes of Megumi Yokota were not hers. In addition, information from American deserter Charles Robert Jenkins indicates that North Korea kidnapped a Thai woman in 1978.[50]

Despite the admission to Prime Minister Koizumi, the North Korean government continues to deny the kidnappings of other foreign nationals and refuses any cooperation to investigate further cases of suspected abductions. However, officials of the South Korean government claim that 486 South Koreans, mostly fishermen, are believed to have been abducted since the end of the Korean War. Advocates and family members have accused the government of doing little or nothing to gain their freedom.[51]

International reaction

Numerous countries and multilateral organizations have criticized North Korea for its human rights abuses. In each November since 2005, the UN General Assembly's Third Committee has condemned North Korea for its conduct. [2]

The U.S. and Japan have passed laws and created envoys to focus attention to this issue. The U.S. initially passed the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 in October of that year, and reauthorized the law in 2008. It created an office at the State Department focused on North Korean human rights, run originally by Special Envoy Jay Lefkowitz and Deputy Special Envoy Christian Whiton.

On Christmas Day, 2009, Robert Park, a Korean-American Christian missionary from Arizona, illegally entered North Korea with the intention of drawing attention to North Korea's human rights abuses. The North Korean government has acknowledged detaining a U.S. citizen who illegally entered the country. The Associated Press has reported that Park was later released on February 6, 2010. [3]

See also


  1. ^ a b North Korean Refugees NGO
  2. ^ a b UNHCR Freedom in the World 2008 - North Korea
  3. ^ KCNA Assails Role Played by Japan for UN Passage of "Human Rights" Resolution against DPRK, KCNA, December 22, 2005.
  4. ^ KCNA Refutes U.S. Anti-DPRK Human Rights Campaign, KCNA, November 8, 2005.
  5. ^ U.S. Releases Rights Report, With an Acknowledgment, New York Times, March 7, 2007.
  6. ^ Immortal Feats of President Kim Il Sung in Building Country, KCNA, September 5, 2008.
  7. ^ Kim Jong Il Highly Praised, KCNA, January 1, 2009.
  8. ^ Kim Jong Il, the tyrant with a passion for wine, women and the bomb, The Independent, October 21, 2006.
  9. ^ North Korea rejects UN human rights resolution, International Herald Tribune, November 24, 2008.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Freedom in the World 2006 - North Korea, Freedom House.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Ridiculous Move of S. Korean Pro-U.S. Elements under Fire, KCNA, December 20, 2005.
  14. ^ UN Commission on Human Rights (2005-04-14). "html version of the file". Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: Human Rights Resolution 2005/11. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  15. ^ "DPRK's Constitution (Full Text)". Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  16. ^ "New Reports Tell of Executions, Torture of Christians in North Korea". Christian Today. Retrieved January 26, 2006. 
  17. ^ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. "Korea, Democratic People's Republic of: International Religious Freedom Report 2004". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  18. ^ ""Promoting Religious Freedom in North Korea": Dr. Sang-Chul Kim Prepared Testimony". United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  19. ^ a b c Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2005-02-28). "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Korea, Democratic People's Republic of". US Department of State. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  20. ^ a b "North Korea - Annual report 2005". Reporters Without Borders. Retrieved January 25, 2006. 
  21. ^ "Kim Jong Il’s leadership, key to victory". Naenara. Retrieved January 27, 2006. 
  22. ^ "Worst Obstacle to Reunification of Korea". Korea Today. Retrieved 2006-01-16. 
  23. ^ "Korea, Democratic People's Republic of: Consular Information Sheet". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  24. ^ "Nation under a nuclear cloud: ‘Racially impure’ children killed". The Times Online. London. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  25. ^ a b "U.N.: N. Korea puts disabled in camps". Disabled Peoples' International. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  26. ^Intervention Agenda Item 12: Elimination of Violence Against Women” at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in April 2004; speaker: Ji Sun JEONG for A Woman's Voice International
  27. ^ Public executions by North Korea is another injustice, Amnesty International, March 7, 2008.
  28. ^ "North Korea resumes public executions". English language version of Pravda. 2007-11-26. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  29. ^ [1]
  30. ^ "Running Out of the Darkness". TIME Magazine.,9171,1186569,00.html. Retrieved October 31, 2006. 
  31. ^ "N. Korean Defectors Describe Brutal Abuse". The Associated Press. Retrieved December 16, 2008. 
  32. ^ "Testimony of Sun-ok Lee" (PDF). U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved 2006-01-26. 
  33. ^ "Access to Evil". BBC. January 29, 2004. Retrieved 2006-01-25. 
  34. ^ "Selected Prison Camps in North Korea and their Locations" (PDF). The Hidden Gulag. Retrieved 2006-01-27. 
  35. ^ "5,000 Prisoners Massacred at Onsong Concentration Camp in 1987". The Chosun Ilbo. Retrieved 2006-01-26. 
  36. ^ Quick, Amanda, C. (2003). World Press Encyclopedia: N-Z, index. Gale. p. 687. ISBN 978-0787655846.
  37. ^ "DEATH OF A LEADER: THE SCENE; In Pyongyang, Crowds of Mourners Gather at Kim Statue". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  38. ^ "Prospects for trade with an integrated Korean market", Agricultural Outlook, April, 1992.
  39. ^ "Why South Korea Does Not Perceive China to be a Threat", China in Transition, April 18, 2003.
  40. ^ "An Antidote to disinformation about North Korea", Global Research, December 28, 2005.
  41. ^ "North Korea Agriculture", Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, Retrieved March 11, 2007.
  42. ^ "Other Industry - North Korean Targets" Federation of American Scientists, June 15, 2000.
  43. ^ "One Kwangju Per Day for Six Years". One Free Korea. Retrieved January 26, 2006. 
  44. ^ "North Korea, Facing Food Shortages, Mobilizes Millions From the Cities to Help Rice Farmers". New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2006. 
  45. ^ "North Korea's grain production up 5.3pc in 2005". The Financial Express. Retrieved January 26, 2006. 
  46. ^ "North Korea Cuts Rations, Raises Taxes". The Command Post. Retrieved January 26, 2006. 
  47. ^ "The Supremo in His Labyrinth". TIME Magazine.,9754,201976,00.html. Retrieved January 26, 2006. 
  48. ^ "Country Pages: Overview of Selected Operations". World Food Program. Retrieved January 26, 2006. 
  49. ^ "North Korea trip not a winner in Japan". Asia Times Online. Retrieved January 26, 2006. 
  50. ^ "Thai foreign minister to visit Japan, hopes to meet Jenkins". TMCnet. Retrieved January 26, 2006. 
  51. ^ "Daughter Calls for Abducted Father's Return From North". The Korea Times. Retrieved January 26, 2006. 

External links

Web Logs
  • One Free Korea: Updated daily; focusing on human rights, political, economic, and military issues, often with Google-Earth tours of North Korea's most secret places
  • RU NK: Focusing primarily on human rights issues, by a member of Liberty in North Korea
  • Daily NK run by the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, includes reports citing informers inside North Korea
  • NK Zone: Includes a variety of perspectives, with a greater focus on cultural and economic issues
  • Concentrations of Inhumanity, report by Freedom House on the political penal labor camps system in North Korea. May 2007.
U.S. State Department Annual Reports

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