The denial of human rights in North Korea is a terrible injustice that can no longer be ignored. For decades, the people of North Korea have lived under a totalitarian system so closed and rigidly controlled that virtually nothing about their circumstances was known to the outside world. Human rights organizations and the international media lacked access to the country. The bitter conflict between the two Koreas, divided from each other by an impenetrable wall of ideology and hair-trigger defenses, reinforced the isolation of the North and the silence of the international community, which concerned itself exclusively with the sensitive security issues that dominated the politics of the Korean peninsula.
Since 1995, more than one million North Koreans may have perished from famine and related disease, while hundreds of thousands more have fled across the border into China. Along with this human catastrophe have come the first cracks in the wall of silence that has separated North Korea from the world. Humanitarian relief workers, though restricted in their movements, have become witnesses to repressive practices in the North, while the testimony of refugees has painted a consistent picture of appalling human rights abuses. In addition, the government in Pyongyang, desperately seeking economic and food aid, has normalized diplomatic relations with many democratic countries, including Canada, Australia, and most members of the European Union. As the cracks in the wall grow wider, the North Korean regime is no longer able to conceal its system of repression but must increasingly submit to the scrutiny of human rights organizations and democratic governments.
The time has come, therefore, to speak out against this repression and to insist that the norms of human rights, as defined by the United Nations, apply as much to the people of North Korea as to the people of any other country. Significantly, North Korea has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. It therefore owes its own citizens and the world community a commitment to comply with the provisions of these documents and must be held accountable for policies and actions that violate these norms. North Korea has consistently violated international agreements, but must no longer be permitted to flout its fundamental obligations to its citizens.
The information available about human rights in North Korea, though incomplete, is more than adequate to raise the most serious concerns. North Korea is a totalitarian state, arguably the most closed and oppressive system in the world. The denial of fundamental human rights in North Korea is not limited to particular individuals or groups but affects the entire population. The government detains and imprisons people at will, taking them from their homes and sending them directly to prison. Judicial review does not exist and the criminal justice system operates at the behest of the government. The population is subjected to a barrage of propaganda by government-controlled media, whose only purpose is to glorify the leadership. Radios available to most North Koreans receive only government broadcasts; loudspeakers in gathering places broadcast government programs. Indoctrination is supported by neighborhood associations and schools at all levels. The opinions of all North Koreans are monitored by government security organizations, and electronic surveillance is used in many private homes. Children are encouraged to inform on their parents. Independent public gatherings are not allowed, and all organizations are created and controlled by the government. The General Federation of Trade Unions is used to monitor the opinions of workers and enforce work requirements and rules. There is no religious freedom, and all art must promote the myth of the former and present rulers, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, respectively.
We wish to call special attention to three broad areas where fundamental rights are being systematically violated:
Though the information available about conditions inside North Korea is still incomplete, we know enough to conclude that human rights are being violated there to a degree that is perhaps unequaled in any other country in the world. A critical first step in responding to this tragedy is to break the information blockade so that the true picture of the conditions in North Korea can be revealed to the world. Toward that end, human rights and humanitarian relief organizations must be given the access to the country that they need in order to assess the full extent of the crisis. Other steps must also be taken, including:
Until now, concerns having to do with peace and nuclear disarmament have taken precedence over the defense of human rights in dealing with North Korea. These concerns are still central. But they cannot be satisfactorily addressed as long as North Korea remains a totalitarian country, isolated from the world and at war with its own people. An opportunity now exists to promote human rights in North Korea and to encourage its gradual opening to its neighbors and the world. Toward this end we have come together and pledge our common effort.
In Illicit: North Korea’s Evolving Operations to Earn Hard Currency, Sheena Chestnut Greitens provides a detailed and thoroughly researched account of the role of illicit activities in the North Korean economy. A central conclusion of Chestnut Greitens’ analysis is that in the context of eroding state control over the licit aspects of the economy, illicit activities are also being “privatized” by North Korea’s elite. As HRNK Co-chair and for
David Hawk interprets reports of changes in North Korea's political prison camps in his most recent report, North Korea's Hidden Gulag: Interpreting Reports of Changes in the Prison Camps. Please view the press release here.
The newest version of Coercion, Control, Surveillance, and Punishment: An Examination of the North Korea Police State by Ken Gause, updated on May 24, 2013.
For this report, DigitalGlobe Analytics examined eleven images collected from 2003 to 2013 of the North Korean political prison facility known as Camp 25 (a.k.a. Kwan-liso No. 25, Political Prison Facility No. 25, No. 25 Chongjin Political Concentration Camp, Susŏng Correctional Center) in Susŏng-dong, Ch’ŏngjin-si, Hamgyŏng-bukto, on the northeast coast of the nation. In this analysis, imagery was compared to identify changes in the organization of the camp, including variations in:
As a follow-up to the October 2012 joint HRNK- DigitalGlobe imagery analysis of North Korea’s Camp 22 (Kwan-li-so No. 22, Korean People’s Security Guard Unit 2209), DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center was asked to assist in identifying reported activity in and around Camp 22 in Hamgyŏng-bukto. More specifically, the Analysis Center was to examine: The outer perimeter fence, guard towers and guard positions to determine if some, or all, have been razed. The
During late September 2012, the North Korean activist community began reporting that the notorious political penal labor facility Camp 22 had been closed in early 2012. On October 1, 2012, in response to these reports and in partnership with the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center initiated an imagery analysis of Camp 22.
The North Korean government assigns a “songbun” status to every citizen at birth based on the perceived political loyalty of his or her family going back generations. While a small, politically loyal class in North Korea is entitled to extensive privileges, the vast majority of citizens are relegated to a permanent lower status and then discriminated against for reasons they cannot control or change.
Based on extensive interviews with over 60 defectors and more than 40 satellite photos of North Korean political prisoner camps, the report calls for the dismantlement of the vast North Korean gulag system in which 150,000 to 200,000 are incarcerated.
TAKEN! provides an in-depth and comprehensive history and analysis of North Korea’s state-sponsored policy of abducting citizens of other countries. This criminal enterprise dates back to the earliest days of the regime, and to policy decisions made by Kim II-sung himself. Those abducted came from widely diverse backgrounds, numerous nationalities, both genders, and all ages, and were taken from placs as far away as London, Copenhagen, Zagreb, Beirut, Hong Kong, and China, in addition to Japan.
This report calls the world’s attention to the suffering of North Korean women who have become the victims of trafficking and forced marriages after escaping their country to seek a new life in China. Seventy-seven interviews with North Korean women living in China yield 52 personal accounts--life stories of women who leave their home country for survival and safety only to be purchased by Chinese men who abuse and exploit them in China. In spite of finding places to live, North Korean women ent
North Korea today is in a state of power transition that could lead to new dangers, instability, and uncertainty. This was not the case during the first succession. Kim Jong-Il had been carefully groomed by his father to succeed him. The process had gone on for twenty years and was directed by Kim Il-Sung himself. In North Korea, all political power derives from Kim Il-Sung’s reign. At the present, North Korea refers to itself as “Kim Il-Sung’s nati
This report is part of HRNK’s “Occasional Papers,” expressing a viewpoint not necessarily representative of the Committee or its Board of Directors. Rather, this paper is written from the viewpoint of a courageous man who has seen the North Korean system from within and has participated in the workings of that system. The author knows how outcomes are produced in North Korea and which individuals are critical to the political process. Kim Kwang-jin provides an overview of the North K
This report is a sequel to the previous report, “Failure to Protect: A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in North Korea” (2006), which called for the UN Security Council to take action. The report identifies concerns with respect to human rights in North Korea. While North Korea has opened up to some international aid, their food policy and inequitable social classification system (“Songbun”) prevents large segments of the population from ever receiving food provided by i
For over sixty years, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has engaged in the systematic, flagrant violation of nearly every human right recognized and protected by international law. This handbook describes the options available to human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seeking to pursue international legal action against North Korea. The international legal system offers a variety of avenues for action, which NGOs can pursue. This report explores such legal avenues, linking NG
Czech Republic President Havel, Norwegian Prime Minister Bondevik, and Nobel Peace Prize Laurate and Boston University Professor Elie Wiesel commissioned the global law firm DLA Piper LLP to work with the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, because they believed that the security threat posed by North Korea has relegated the human rights concerns in the country to a second-class status. With the unanimous adoption by the UN Security Council of the doctrine that each state has a “resp
Concentration on the strategic problem in the national security context is clearly warranted, yet there is another, growing dimension to the North Korean problem that poses a grave challenge: the plight of ordinary North Koreans who are denied even the most basic human rights, and those who risk their lives to escape the world’s worst nightmare, the tyranny of the Kim Jong-il regime. In this report, six experts – Stephen Haggard, Marcus Noland, Yoonok Chang, Joshua Kurlantzick, Jana Mason,