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Quiz Society SRCC

Futureless present of North Korea

The United Nations has described Human Rights as the rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

Sadly basic human rights are not available to every human on this planet and one of the worst instances of human rights violation can be seen in the country of North Korea.

The Korean peninsula was acquired by Japan in 1910. When World War II ended with Japan’s defeat,North Korea was formed in 1948 after the United States and the Soviet Union divided the Korean peninsula. Both North Korea and South Korea demanded jurisdiction over the entire Korea which led to the Korean War starting in 1950 over the course of three years. After the war, Kim Il Sung brought forth the ideology of “Juche” of self-reliance in North Korea. The state assumed control over the economy, agriculture and all privately-owned properties. The country was put into isolation and military power was strengthened at the cost of ordinary people. Kim Il Sung was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Il and his regimes ended up widening the inequalities between ordinary people and military and elite classes.

Currently.North Korea functions as a one-party state with Kim Jong-Un of the Kim dynasty as the current Supreme Leader of North Korea. North Korea has been ruled by the Kim family for three generations and the citizens are required to show complete devotion and loyalty to the family.

North Korea is widely known to have the worst human rights conditions in the world. An inquiry conducted by the UN into human rights in North Korea in 2014 concluded that, "The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” Amnesty International has reported that there are restrictions on freedom of movement, freedom of expression while many deaths are caused by detentions, executions, torture and other ill-treatments. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry has accused North Korea of crimes against humanity.

According to estimates by Amnesty International, there are about 2,00,000 prisoners held in six large political prison camps. Political prisoners in North Korea have been subjected to extreme torture, are raped and executed. Defector’s testimonies given to International Bar Association (IBA) War Crimes Committee in 2016 include accounts of prisoners being tortured or killed because of their religious affiliations, forced abortion and infanticide. Authorities deliberately starve and overwork around 1500-2000 children to death. Former ICC judge Thomas Buergenthal, a child survivor of Auschwitz, told the Washington Post, “Conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps and in my long professional career in the human rights field.” Although Pyongyang denies holding the dissidents captive satellite images by the IBA show prison camps (kwanliso) occupying tracts of land studded with guard towers and encircled by electric fencing and barbed wire. Death penalty is imposed on people, without any due judicial process, for a variety of common and political crimes.

Testimonies and statements by North Korean defectors have shown light to existence of total control zones where abuses such as rapes, medical experiments, murder, forced labor, starvation have been reported. Defectors have given various interviews highlighting their struggle of escaping to nearby countries like China and South Korea. Kim Kang Yoo said in an interview to ABC news, "To hide myself from the North Korean guard posts' watch, I ran deep into the valley, for hours I wandered in the woods, round and round. I cut myself on a tree branch and almost died falling off a cliff. For the first time in life, I prayed for god's mercy although I had never been to church." "I witnessed a soldier, not so different from myself, being executed by firing squad when he was caught trying to flee," said An Chan Il, also a defector and North Korea expert. There is no doubt about the severity of abuse of people in North Korea but there still lingers a doubt as to the testimonies of defectors because a lot of them give incentivized interviews. China treats all defectors from North Korea as illegal immigrants and imprisons them in a short term facility.

There is a restriction on North Korean citizens to leave the country at will and also the government does not allow international rights observers to visit the country. Even while travelling from one province to another, people had to pay bribes to police officers and other officials. In 2019, Kim Jong Un’s government continued to control people from leaving the country without permission by jamming Chinese mobile phone services at the border area and arresting people who were trying to leave or communicating with people outside the country. There is strict monitoring of foreign visitors in North Korea.

North Korea is an officially atheist state. Amnesty international has expressed concerns over religious persecutions in North Korea. The constitution of North Korea provides for “right to faith” and people are said to be Buddhists, Shamanists and also followers of Chondoism which is native North Korean religion. There are also state operated churches. But in reality there is no freedom of religion. The Open Doors Mission, a Protestant group in the USA, claims that the most severe persecution of Christians in the world occurs in North Korea. Christian Solidarity Worldwide says that there are instances of people being sent to prison camps on the basis of their religion. Reportedly, there are 50000-70000 Christians in North Korean prison camps and there are also cases of public persecution of Christians.

The North Korean government requires uncompensated forced labor from the majority of its population. According to Human Rights Watch, children as young as 11 are forced to work on farms and construction sites and children living in detention camps are also forced to engage in heavy work. Ordinary North Korean citizens are not allowed to choose their jobs and men and unmarried women are assigned jobs by the government. Not showing up to work without permission is a crime punishable by three to six months in prison camps. North Korea is one of the few nations in the world that is not a part of the International Labor Organization. North Korea uses songbun, a socio-political classification system that groups people into classes like “loyal”, “wavering” and “hostile”, discriminating against people with respect to employment, food security and education.

As per the 2020 Press Freedom Index, North Korea takes up the last position. Although the constitution of North Korea provides for freedom of press, in reality all media is restricted by the government. The authorities strictly control people’s communication with the rest of the world. All communications are under the total control of the Publicity and Information Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Apart from a select few in the ruling elite, the general population has no access to the internet or to international mobile phone services. A report by the United Nations stated that any North Korean citizen watching South Korean media content is at risk of detention in prison camps or being executed. Reporters without Borders claim that the radio and television sets that can be bought In North Korea are preset to receive only the government frequencies.

In May 2019, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that due to the worst harvest in 10 years, approximately 40% of the population suffered from temporary but severe food shortages. A report by Amnesty International stated that,” some reforms were introduced, but there were no fundamental changes in the agricultural production system. Only some people working for the Worker’s Party of Korea, the government, the military and Pyongyang residents benefitted from the public distribution system. Vulnerable groups, including the elderly, people with disabilities and orphans were at particular risk of food insecurity.``

In addition to the abuses suffered by the general public, women in North Korea also face gender-based abuses. In detention camps, women are subjected to rape and other sexual violence by security officials. Women also face high levels of discrimination and sexual assault in work places as they are exposed to constant stereotypical gender roles. According to Human Rights Watch, women in North Korea are routinely subjected to sexual assaults and rapes by men in positions of power. Female defectors also face threats like rapes to be able to cross the border. Women who are suspected to have been impregnated by Chinese men are subjected to full-term forced abortions and the babies born alive are killed.

On December 17, 2018, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution without a vote condemning human rights in North Korea. On March 22, 2019, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted without a vote a resolution emphasizing the advancement of accountability mechanisms to ensure eventual prosecution of North Korean officials responsible for crimes against humanity.

The conditions in North Korea shine a light upon what happens when ordinary people have no political voice and no rights including that of survival. It is extremely necessary to make more and more people aware about the crisis in North Korea and know about the dehumanizing conditions in which its citizens live in. It is also important for governments to help and support North Korean refugees. People, governments and organizations need to work together to stop the indescribable oppression that North Koreans go through.


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