North Korea is a dictatorial regime controlled by one man, Kim, Jong-un. He succeeded his father, Kim Jong-il, after he passed in 2011, and is the grandson of Kim Il-sung. Under their dictatorial rule, millions of North Koreans have perished through starvation, while others have died during imprisonment in its large prison/labor camps. Human rights in North Korea are virtually non-existent as the government regulates individual lives from speech, opinion, and thought, to employment, travel, and food rations.
Hundreds of thousands have fled to China and other neighboring countries to seek subsistence. However, China continues to forcibly repatriate North Koreans to a fate that includes imprisonment where they may experience torture, medical and chemical experiments, forced abortions, infanticide, starvation, and hard labor.
A handful of North Koreans desperately force their way into foreign compounds in China and are fortunate enough to gain passage to South Korea, while others travel through “underground railroads” through China and to other countries seeking final destination in South Korea where they are granted automatic citizenship. The tragedy that North Koreans face continues to escalate. Please read below for more information.
Lack of Human Rights in North Korea
North Koreans lack almost every human right. The government regulates speech, opinion, thought, press, information, employment, movement, location of residence, food rations, assembly, association, religion, and even the right to life. Petty crimes and any type of perceived disloyalty to the dictator can land a North Korean citizen in a prison camp along with all family members up to three generations. It can even lead to immediate execution. Arbitrary arrest, detention, and lack of fair and public trials are commonplace. Further, torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment are experienced frequently by detainees in prisons.
U.S. State Department Information on North Korea
U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Reports
U.N. Commission on Human Rights: Apr 14, 2005 Resolution: Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea E/CN.4/RES/2005/11
U.N. Commission on Human Rights: 2003 Resolution: Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: Information on North Korea, including Reports of the Special Rapporteur
Famine and Food Crisis
Due to a variety of factors, including the North Korean regime’s implementation of an ineffective ideology called Juche or Self Reliance, which promotes national isolation, along with misallocation of resources, economic mismanagement, loss of support from former Soviet Union, discrimination, diversion of food aid, and natural disasters, the vast majority of North Korean citizens who live outside of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, continue to suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
The international community became aware of food shortages in North Korea in 1991. It is reported by 1997, only 6% of the population was receiving food through the Public Distribution System (PDS). North Korea continues to rely heavily on international food aid, however, there are doubts that some of the food aid is reaching those in desperate need. Children suffer the worst, particularly orphans. In 2003, it was reported that 42% of North Korean children suffer from chronic malnutrition, resulting in drastic height and weight differences with children from the South.
Amnesty International: Starved of Rights: Human Rights and the Food Crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
United States Institute of Peace: The Great North Korean Famine: Famine, Politics, and Foreign Policy by Andrew Natsios
U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea-Hunger and Human Rights: The Politics of Famine in North Korea
North Korean Refugees in China and Forced Repatriation
As the food crisis and discrimination continues, the North Korean refugee issue grows with estimates of up to 300,000 North Koreans residing in China. This is compounded by China’s refusal to create and implement a legal process through which North Koreans can obtain refugee or asylum status. Instead, China brands a blanket determination identifying them as purely economic migrants and seeks to forcibly repatriate North Koreans to a highly certain fate of arbitrary detention, torture, and possible execution. China continues to repatriate in violation of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol of which it is a party to.
A fortunate handful of North Koreans have forced their way into foreign compounds in China and have successfully traveled to South Korea. Others seek to make it to South Korea through “underground railroads” set up by NGOs and other individuals secretly working in China. However, many attempt to survive in China, living in fear as they try to avoid Chinese authorities and repatriation. Without any civil rights and protection by the government, women and children are largely at risk of exploitation. It is estimated that up to 70% of North Korean women in China are trafficked. Many children, especially orphans, become street children.
Furthermore, China has prosecuted and imprisoned humanitarian aid workers found helping North Koreans, including foreign nationals from the U.S., South Korea, and Japan.
Human Rights Watch: The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People’s Republic of China
Refugees International: Trafficking of North Korean Women in China
1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
U.N. High Commission for Human Rights and China Agreement to upgrade UNHCR Mission to UNHCR Branch office in China
Bilateral Treaty between North Korea and China-Mutual Cooperation Protocol for the Work of Maintaining National Security and Social Order in the Border Areas
North Korea’s Prisons Camps
According to the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, there exists a vast network of structured institutions for punishment in North Korea including forced-labor colonies, camps, prisons, along with short-term detention facilities along the North Korea-China border. Prisoners are brutally treated in these institutions with testimonies from North Korean defectors describing the application of torture techniques, hard labor, starvation, forced abortions, infanticide, families of up to three generations imprisoned, detention without judicial process, public executions, chemical and medical experimentation on prisoners, and gas chambers, resulting in thousands of deaths. Comparisons have been frequently made to the Nazi concentration camps.
U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea: The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps (with satellite photos of camps)
Human Rights Without Frontiers: Comparative Analysis of Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany, the Former Soviet Union and North Korea by Pierre Rigoulot
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees: NK Prison Camp Eye Witness Accounts: Interviews with Survivors, Former Guards