Human Rights in North Korea
In February 2014, the Commission of Inquiry by the United Nations and under the chairmanship of Michael Kirby, published a human rights report on North Korea. Whlist presenting this report, Mr Kirby said that this report is the most harrowing the United Nations have ever published.
A link to download the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on human right in DPRK (COI Report) is available here.
Human Rights Violations in North Korea
The existence of North Korea is, as it is for over 60 years now, an ongoing human tradegy for it’s about 24 million inhabitants. Since the 1990th the living conditions have worsened even further. During the early 1990th, in only a couple of years between one to three million people died of starvation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economy of the country collapsed and thus the state distribution for food.
Probably one of the shocking aspects about North Korea is that most of the roughly 100,000 people in work and concentration camps often serve life sentences. Though many of the detainees don’t even know because of what kind of ‚offense‘ and whether committed by themselves or any relatives they were detained for.
But also outside of these camps, life for the vast majority of North Koreans is a daily struggle to survival; food, sanatorical and medical care or ways to heat during winter (it can get around -30°C) are very difficult to obtain for most of the people.
About one third of the population suffers from chronic undernutrition and malnutrition; often those people suffer from physical or mental underdevelopment as a result.
Freedom of opinion or freedom of press are widely unknown within this militant, nationalist, socialistic positioned succession dictatorship. Next to the state media, there is no legal alternative way to gather information. North Korea is the only country not connected to the global internet. Mobile services are only available to the privileged ones and there are only domestic calls possible.
Video: Citizens‘ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR)
Labour and Concentration Camps
There are all kind of things you will hear about North Korea – but you won’t ever hear anything about an opposition, let alone even the slightest doubt about the North Korean state power. Considering that North Korea is probably the most repressive state worldwide, it becomes clear why this is. Even a minimal suspicion of ‚offense‘ let people concerned expect heaviest penalties for themselves and their families. Usually this means specifically: deportation in one of roughly 20 camps, torture or even execution.
At the 12th International Conference on Human Rights in North Korea of the NKHR (Citizens‘ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights) in Berlin, Ms Kim Hye-sook reported about the terrible suffering of the interned people in the labour and concentration camps. She herself was displaced to one of these camps at the age of 13, because her grandfather had fled to South Korea, as she only learned after her imprisonment. To ask about the reason for the punishment, is punishable by death. Kim reported from about 100 public executions a year, alone in camp 18, in which she was imprisoned a total of 28 years of her life. Inmates were executed for various offences, as example Kim lead on food theft or ‚being superstitious‘.
She survived nearly 30 years in the camp and was released through a kind of amnesty. Later she managed to escape to China. Since 2008 she lives in South Korea and fights for international engagement against the prison camps in North Korea. This is only possible as none of her relatives in North Korea is still alive. Otherwise, it could be assumed that the regime would take revenge on them for the dedication of Ms Kim.
Freedom of Opinion and Press
A free press is simply non-existent. Newspaper and television are operated by state propaganda. In almost every appartment, a radio is set up, which can not be turned off (you can only turn it down a little bit). In North Korea one often sees other people memorising speeches of current or former leaders whilst walking on the streets.
Many refugees who have reached a safe third country, have difficulties to integrate in a free society. Permanent manipulation by the omnipresent propaganda and a climate of fear drawing through society, described by defectors often as ‚brainwashing‘ and explains that they are barely able to think clear at all.
The access to food, education and health care in North Korea depends on the social class (songbun, 성분) one is born into. The whole population is divided into three main classes, ‚loyal‘ (about 28% of the citizen), ‚wavering‘ (about 45%) and ‚hostile‘ (about 27%), to this are 51 other subclasses. However, the supply even for the class of loyal people is more than poor. Estimations suggests that between one to three million people died of starvation in the 1990th.
Underfeeding and Malnutrition
Meanwhile the situation has eased considerably, but underfeeding and malnutrition are yet still widespread. In large parts of the country, where no foreigners are allowed into and only few manage to escape yet, one can only speculate about the extent of the coverage gaps. The supply in North Korea shall be provided by the regime. The fact that the food situation now is less dramatic is due to the population itself. Every small area is (often illegally) used for cultivation of food and the products then sold or exchanged on the black markets. Nowadays the regime usually tolerates these black markets, as otherwise a new famine would be expected.
Essential operations such as appendectomy (confirmed at least for the 1990th), were often performed without anesthesia, due to a permanent shortage of drugs. The supply is very poor, particularily in rural areas. North Korea has a high rate of tuberculosis and hepatitis (mainly type A) is widespread. Vaccinations are missing completely basically.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs classifies medical care as ’nationwide extremely inadequate‘. ‚Because of the general lack of medicines, bandages, medical instruments and apliances, we recommend [visitors] a well equipped first aid kit. Hospitals, even those specifically provided for foreigners, do not offer western standards. More serious diseases must therefore receive treatments in other countries.‘ And the drinking water is classified as ‚poor‘.
It is generally known that North Korea has a more than insufficient energy supply. Tourists like to report from regular power outages, during which only the statues and mosaics that depict the leaders, are illuminated. This lighting is provivded by a separate power supply. Due to the chronic power shortage, the industry in North Korea is in a very poor state.
Why is there no Resistance?
Despite these conditions there is no open opposition to the regime, this has three main reasons: First of all, people are ‚trained ideologically‘ already as infants, this begins usually before they learn to speak – refugees repeatedly report that the first words of many children were ‚Thank you, dear leader‘ or something similar, just as it was inculcated into them in kindergarten.
Secondly, according to the propaganda, people in the rest of the world are much worse off, or the ‚imperialist countries‘ are to blame for the shortcomings that plague the population. And third, almost all Koreans are constantly busy with the struggle for survival, leaving them no time for things like studying, politics or even resistance. This was also being recognised by the leadership. During the severe famine, a time Kim Jong Il consolidated his rule, he is supposed to have said: ‚The people must be hungry, so they can not think.‘