Human Rights in North Korea
In the 2018 North Korea-United States Summit, where the U.S. President Trump met with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader, Kim Jong-un, the focus was mainly on human rights in North Korea. North Korea has long been condemned by the U.N. as a perpetrator of human rights violations.

Facts About Human Rights in North Korea

1. 2.6 million modern-day slaves exist in North Korea.

Today, one in 10 North Korean citizens are held in political prison camps known as “kwanliso”. In the camps, prisoners are starved and beaten up while being forced into hard labor by the government officials. Additionally, many modern-day slaves are victims of human trafficking, child exploitation and debt bondage.

2. Political freedom is virtually non-existent.

Political opposition is not allowed under the totalitarian system in North Korea. The state controls all internet access, television and news organizations, allowing only pro-government content. Freedom of assembly and petition are also prohibited.

3. Class status is determined by loyalty.

Individuals are classified under “songbun”, which divides people into groups of “loyal”, “wavering” or “hostile” classes depending on how devoted they are to the government. This classification often determines people’s employment, housing and access to education. It can also threaten their lives.

4. Arbitrary arrests and torture in custody often occur.

The governmental security forces often subject accused political criminals to arbitrary arrest, long-term detention and other tortures including starvation during interrogation. Those accused of major political crimes are often sent to prison camps without trial; emblematic of the lack of human rights in North Korea. In most cases, families are unaware of what happens to their family member. In fact, earlier relatives of political criminals could also be sent to the camps, though this is less common now.

5. Forced abortion occurs as a form of ethnic cleansing.

The majority of refugees going from North Korea to China are women.  They often become victims of rape. Over 5,000 North Koreans are repatriated to North Korea by China every year and once they return to North Korea, pregnant women suspected of carrying “foreign sperm” are forced to have abortions in prison. If not, the suspected half-Chinese children are killed. 

6. Religious communities, especially Christians, are persecuted.

According to Christian watchdog organizations, all traces of the formally large Christian community in the pre-regime North Korea have been wiped out. Suspected Christians are tortured and killed as the state suppresses any religion that poses a threat to the government.

7. North Korea abducts foreign nationals.

Japan continues to demand the return of 17 citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. North Korea has admitted to these kidnappings and further accused of abducting over 3,800 South Koreans. Allegedly, these individuals have been kidnapped so that the North Korean government can learn more about the other cultures as part of their espionage efforts.

8. Despite signing several human rights treaties, these abuses continue.

Following increased concern over human rights in North Korea, North Korea has signed treaties that protect women, children and the disabled’s political and economic rights. Despite this commitment to cooperate with the U.N. and other international bodies, the government continues to refuse to work with the South Korean and U.N. human rights organizations.

9. China recently began enforcing more sanctions on North Korea.

China holds perhaps the greatest leverage over North Korea as one of its major trading partners. Historically, China has not demanded changes to the human rights in North Korea because of China’s own issues with human rights violations. But due to nuclear power concerns, in May 2017, China’s sanctions on North Korea‘s government has increased.

10. Despite little improvement, awareness about these crimes continues to grow.

Though the situation still looks bleak, the information known about North Korea has greatly increased since the 1990s when refugee stories first emerged. Since North Korea has been forced to cooperate somewhat with other global powers, there are efforts to reach people in North Korea via social media so they can learn more about their situation and rights.

Human rights in North Korea might not be improving, but global attention to the situation creates awareness of the threat to life that exists in the country. Going forward, international pressure can eventually ensure that basic human rights are given to the people of North Korea.

Grace Gay
Photo: Google