The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution condemning North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) for violations of rights to freedom of the press, speech, movement, and religion. The resolution should urge reforms to North Korea’s penal code, which criminalizes the act of leaving the country without state permission as an act of treason. The Commission should also urge North Korea to develop direct, meaningful dialogue with U.N. experts on human rights, including Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea, and invite them to visit North Korea for monitoring.
Despite two consecutive resolutions by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights against its abysmal human rights record, North Korea has largely shunned dialogue with U.N. experts on human rights. Although North Korea has acceded to the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, it routinely and egregiously violates nearly all international human rights standards. North Korea remains among the world’s most repressive governments.
North Korean Refugees. According to various sources, there are between 30,000 and 300,000 North Koreans living in China, after fleeing their home country to avoid hunger or political persecution. Under the North Korean law, it is an act of treason to leave the country without state permission, and North Korean agents hunt them down for forcible repatriation. Once repatriated, if they are found to have crossed the border repeatedly, or have had contact with westerners or South Koreans while in China, especially missionaries, they become subject to harsh punishments including terms in forced labor camps.
Detention and Torture. . Those arrested or detained in North Korea face harsh interrogation, often accompanied by torture, to extract “confessions.” No legal counsel is provided or allowed throughout the process. The judiciary is neither independent, nor impartial. All individuals held in prisons are subjected to forced labor, and face cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; many die in prison because of mistreatment, malnutrition, and lack of medical care. Torture appears to be endemic.
Death Penalty and Public Executions. . Under North Korea’s penal code, theft of food is punishable by death, in addition to premeditated murder, so-called anti-state crimes such as treason, sedition, and acts of terrorism. Numerous eyewitness accounts by North Korean refugees have detailed how executions are carried out publicly, often at crowded market places, and in the presence of children, as a “lesson” to the general population.
Freedom of Press and Religion. . In North Korea, all media are either run or controlled by the state. All TVs and radios are fixed so that they can transmit only state channels. The simple act of watching or listening to the foreign press—or tampering with TVs or radios for this purpose—is a crime that carries harsh punishment. All publications are subject to supervision and censorship by the state. All prayers and religious studies are supervised by the state, and often used for state propaganda. Independent worship is not allowed.
Education and Work. . Although all North Korean children are required to attend school for eleven years, it is generally children of the “core” group who are allowed to advance to college and hold prominent occupations. Those belonging to “wavering” or “hostile” groups have very limited or no choice in education or work. North Korea has numerous trade unions in all industrial sectors, but the unions are all controlled by the state. Strikes and collective bargaining are illegal, as are all independently organized labor activities.
Discrimination in Medical Care. . While hospitals for the elite class are equipped with modern medicine and facilities, those for the rest of the population often lack even very basic supplies such as bandages or antibiotics. Many North Koreans, especially children, suffer from diseases that can be easily treated.
Absence of Civil Society. . There is no organized political opposition in North Korea. There are no independent nongovernmental organizations of any kind, including human rights organizations. State elections are held periodically, but all candidates are state candidates, and voting is openly monitored by state officials. Expression of dissent against government policy or doctrines is considered a serious offense against the state. For political crimes, whether actual or perceived, collective punishment of entire families is the norm.
The Commission on Human Rights should:
- Call on the North Korean authorities to immediately stop the practice of forced repatriation of North Koreans in China;
- Urge North Korea to release all those held for the peaceful exercise of rights to freedom of the press, speech, movement, and religion;
- Urge North Korea to amend its laws and regulations to make them consistent with international standards;
- Urge North Korea to develop direct dialogues with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea.