December 20, 2011

Human rights in North Korea - NOT!

[source: wikipedia]

Freedom of expression - NOT

The North Korean constitution has clauses guaranteeing the freedoms of speech and assembly. In practice other clauses take precedence, including the requirement that citizens follow a socialist way of life. Criticism of the government and its leaders is strictly curtailed and making such statements can be cause for arrest and consignment to one of North Korea's "re-education" camps. The government distributes all radio and television sets; citizens are forbidden to alter them to make it possible to receive broadcasts from other nations, and doing so carries draconian penalties.

There are numerous civic organizations but all of them appear to be operated by the government. All routinely praise the government and perpetuate the personality cults of the deceased Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung. Defectors indicate that the promotion of the cult of personality is one of the primary functions of almost all films, plays, and books produced within the country.

Freedom of movement - NOT

North Korean citizens usually cannot freely travel around the country, much less travel abroad. Only the political elite may own or lease vehicles, and the government limits access to fuel and other forms of transportation due to frequent shortages of gasoline, diesel fuel, crude oil, coal and other fossil fuels. (Satellite photos of North Korea show an almost complete absence of vehicles on all of its roads throughout the country, even in its cities.) Forced resettlement of citizens and whole families, especially as punishment for political reasons, is said to be routine.

North Korean refugees who flee to China are often later forcibly repatriated back to North Korea by Chinese authorities, and are routinely beaten and sent to prison camps. This is because the North Korean government treats emigrants from the country as defectors. This treatment is more severe in cases where North Korean refugees have come into contact with NGOs that are associated with South Korea or with religions, especially Christianity. In cases where the North Korean government discovers that contact has occurred between refugees and these NGOs, the punishments for these refugees are torture and execution upon their repatriation back to North Korea.

Only the most loyal, politically reliable, and healthiest citizens are allowed to live in Pyongyang. Those who are suspected of sedition, or who have family members suspected of it, are expelled from the city; similar conditions affect those who are physically or mentally disabled in some way (the only exception being People's Army Korean War veterans with injuries relating to the conflict). This can be a significant method of coercion since food and housing are said to be much better in the capital city than elsewhere in the country.

Freedom of the press - NOT

North Korea is currently ranked second to last (ahead of Eritrea) on the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. The constitution of North Korea provides for freedom of the press, but in practice all media is strictly controlled by the government. The national media is focused almost entirely on political propaganda and the promotion of the personality cults surrounding Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. It emphasizes historical grievances towards the United States and Japan. According to the North Korean government's account of history, the country was the victim of aggression during the Korean War by the United States, while historians from the West say that it was North Korea that started the war.

Reporters Without Borders claims that radio or television sets which can be bought in North Korea are pre-set to receive only the government frequencies and sealed with a label to prevent tampering with the equipment. It is a serious criminal offense to manipulate the sets and receive radio or television broadcasts from outside North Korea. In a party campaign in 2003 the head of each party cell in neighbourhoods and villages received instructions to verify the seals on all radio sets.

As North and South Korea use different television systems (PAL and NTSC respectively), it is not possible to view broadcasts across the border between the two countries; however, in areas bordering China, it has reportedly been possible to receive television from that country. A North Korean envoy for the United Nations reported that any North Korean citizen caught watching a South Korean film may result in that person being sent to a labour camp.

Minority rights - NOT

North Korea's population is one of the world's most ethnically homogeneous and today immigration is almost non-existent. Among the few immigrants that have willingly gone to North Korea are Japanese spouses (generally wives) of Koreans who returned from Japan from 1955 to the early 1980s. These Japanese have been forced to assimilate and for the most part, the returnees overall are reported to have not been fully accepted into North Korean society (with a few exceptions, such as those who became part of the government) and instead ended up on the fringes, including concentration camps mentioned below. Foreigners who visit the country are generally strictly monitored by government minders and are forbidden to enter certain locations.

Disabled rights - NOT

On March 22, 2006, the Associated Press reported from South Korea that a North Korean doctor who defected, Ri Kwang-chol, has claimed that babies born with physical defects are rapidly put to death and buried. A United Nations report also mentions how disabled people are allegedly "rounded up" and sent to "special camps." People diagnosed with autism and other related disorders are often persecuted.

Forced prostitution

A group called "A Woman's Voice International" alleged that the state forcibly drafts girls as young as 14 years to work in the so-called kippÅ­mjo that includes prostitution teams. The source used is unclear as to whether only adult kippÅ­mjo are assigned to prostitution or whether there is prostitution of children – other kippÅ­mjo activities are massaging and cabaret dancing. Claims were made that there are orders "to marry guards of Kim Jong-il or national heroes" when they are 25 years old.

The prison system

According to many organizations, the conditions in North Korean prisons are harsh and life threatening: Prisoners are subject to torture and inhumane treatment. Public and secret executions of prisoners, even children, especially in cases of escape attempts; infanticides (forced abortions and baby killings upon birth) also often occur. The mortality rate is very high, because many prisoners die of starvation, illnesses, work accidents or torture.

The DPRK government flatly denies all allegations of human rights violations in prison camps, claiming that this is prohibited by criminal procedure law, but former prisoners testify that there are completely different rules in the prison camps. The DPRK government failed to provide any information on prisoners or prison camps or to allow access to any human rights organization.

Lee Soon-ok gave detailed testimony on her treatment in the North Korean prison system to the United States House of Representatives in 2002. In her statement she said, "I testify that most of the 6,000 prisoners who were there when I arrived in 1987 had quietly perished under the harsh prison conditions by the time I was released in 1992." Many other former prisoners, e. g. Kang Chol-hwan and Shin Dong-hyuk, gave detailed and consistent testimonies on the human rights crimes in North Korean prison camps.

According to the testimony of a defected former guard at camp 21, the guards are trained to treat the detainees as sub-human, and he gave an account of children in one of the camps who were fighting over who got to eat a kernel of corn retrieved from cow dung.

The North Korean prison camp facilities can be distinguished into large internment camps for political prisoners (Kwan-li-so in Korean) and reeducation prison camps (Kyo-hwa-so in Korean).

Internment camps for political prisoners

The internment camps for people accused of political offences or denounced as politically unreliable are run by the state security department. Political prisoners are subject to guilt by association punishment. They are deported with parents, children and siblings, sometimes even grandparents or grandchildren without any lawsuit or conviction and are detained for the rest of their lives.

The internment camps are located in central and northeastern North Korea. They comprise many prison labour colonies in secluded mountain valleys, completely isolated from the outside world. The total number of prisoners is estimated to be 150,000 to 200,000. Yodok camp and Bukchang camp are separated into two sections: One section for political prisoners in lifelong detention, another part similar to re-education camps with prisoners sentenced to long-term imprisonment with the vague hope of eventual release.

The prisoners are forced to perform hard and dangerous slave work with primitive means in mining and agriculture. The food rations are very small, so that the prisoners are constantly on the brink of starvation. In combination with the hard work this leads to huge numbers of prisoners dying. An estimated 40% of prisoners die from malnutrition. Moreover many prisoners are crippled from work accidents, frostbite or torture. There is a rigid punishment in the camp. Prisoners that work too slow or do not obey an order are beaten or tortured. In case of stealing food or attempting to escape, the prisoners are publicly executed.

Initially there were around twelve political prison camps, but some were merged or closed (e. g. Onsong prison camp, Kwan-li-so No. 12, following a defeated riot with around 5000 dead people in 1987). Today there are six political prison camps in North Korea (size determined from satellite images, number of prisoners estimated by former prisoners). Most of the camps are documented in testimonies of former prisoners and for all of them coordinates and satellite images are available.

The South Korean journalist Kang Chol-hwan is a former prisoner of Yodok Political Prison Camp and has written a book The Aquariums of Pyongyang about his time in the camp. The South Korean human rights activist Shin Dong-hyuk is the only person known to have escaped from Kaechon Political Prison Camp and gave an account of his time in the camp.

Reeducation camps

The reeducation camps for criminals are run by the interior ministry. There is a fluent passage between common crimes and political crimes, as people who get on the bad side of influential partisans are often denounced on false accusations. They are then forced into false confessions with brutal torture in detention centers (Lee Soon-ok for example had to kneel down whilst being showered with water at icy temperatures with other prisoners, of which six did not survive) and are then condemned in a brief show trial to long-term prison sentence. In North Korea political crimes are greatly varied, from border crossing to any disturbance of the political order, and are rigorously punished. Due to the dire prison conditions with hunger and torture, a large percentage of prisoners do not survive their sentence term.

The reeducation camps are large prison building complexes surrounded by high walls. The situation of prisoners is quite similar to that in the political prison camps. They have to perform slave work in prison factories and in case they do not meet the work quota, they are tortured and (at least in Kaechon camp) confined for many days to special prison cells, too small to stand up or lie full-length in. In distinction from the internment camps for political prisoners, the reeducation camp prisoners are instructed ideologically after work and are forced to memorize speeches of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il and have to undergo self-criticism rites.

There are around 15 – 20 reeducation camps in North Korea.

Famine and the food distribution system

The state-controlled economy of North Korea, including the food sector, has suffered from severe mismanagement in recent decades. North Korea also experienced severe floods in the mid-1990s, exacerbated by poor land management. A serious famine followed, resulting in the death of around 2,000,000 people.

By 1999, food aid and development aid from other countries had reduced the rate of famine deaths. In the spring of 2005, the World Food Program reported that famine conditions were in imminent danger of returning to North Korea, and the government was reported to have ordered millions of city-dwellers to the countryside to perform farm labour. In 2005, the agricultural situation showed signs of improvement, rising 5.3% to 4.54 million tons; this was largely the result of increased donations of fertilizers from South Korea. However, the World Food Program stated that this was short of the estimated 6 million tons necessary to adequately feed the population. Nevertheless, North Korea called for food aid to cease, and shipments of food to the country ended on December 31 of that year. In the same period, news sources reported that North Korea continued to raise food prices while reducing food rations.

The U.S. State Department claims that North Korea's society is highly stratified by class, according to a citizen's family and political background.

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