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(Seoul) – North Korea’s authoritarian leader, Kim Jong-Un, should be held accountable for overseeing grave rights abuses and crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un holds binoculars as he guides a live-firing exercise in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on July 15, 2014. © 2014 Reuters

In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

“Kim Jong-Un and his government are fooling themselves if they think they will be able to avoid international accountability forever for their continued infliction of rights crimes on the North Korean people, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Rather than continue with denials that no one believes, the North Korea government should reverse course and immediately end ongoing human rights abuses that the United Nations has identified as being without parallel in the contemporary world.”

In 2015, North Korea intensified repression, increased border controls, severely punished those trying to leave the country without permission, and tightened restrictions on freedom of movement inside the country. The government also punished those found with unauthorized information from outside the country, including news clips, films, television shows, photos and, in some cases, used public executions of offenders to generate fearful obedience.

North Korea systematically represses basic civil and political rights, such as freedom of association, assembly, and expression, and targets those involved in religious activities. Labor rights are also systematically denied. Despite being ruled by the Worker’s Party of Korea that claims to represent workers, North Korea is one of the few states in the world that refuses to join the International Labor Organization. Access to adequate food, medical care, education, and other services remains limited, especially for the majority of people who are not in the privileged class under the government’s songbun classification system.

A UN Commission of Inquiry reported in February 2014 that the North Korean government had committed systematic human rights abuses on a scale and gravity without parallel in the contemporary world – including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, and other sexual violence. On December 10, 2015, the UN Security Council formally debated the human rights situation in North Korea for the second year in a row. North Korea’s rights record was also condemned by both the UN Human Rights Council in March and the General Assembly in December, in resolutions adopted by overwhelming majorities.

“Governments around the world should put human rights at the center of all their dealings with North Korea,” said Robertson. “The people of North Korea are depending on that pressure to finally halt the litany of human rights abuses that dominate their daily lives.”


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