Annual Report 2013
The state of the world's human rights

9 April 2013

Q&A: North Korea’s human rights crisis

Q&A: North Korea’s human rights crisis
Hundreds of thousands of people are held in prison camps

Hundreds of thousands of people are held in prison camps

© Amnesty International/AAAS/Committee for Human Rights in North Korea


As tensions rise on the Korean peninsula, Amnesty International answers key questions about human rights in North Korea.

How bad are human rights in North Korea?

Millions of people in North Korea suffer extreme forms of repression and human rights violations that violate nearly the entire spectrum of their human rights.  In January 2013, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that North Korea had “one of the worst –but least understood and reported - human rights situations in the world”.

Hundreds of thousands of people—including children—are arbitrarily held in political prison camps and other detention facilities where they are subjected to human rights violations like forced labour, denial of food as punishment, torture and public executions.

Many of those held in political prison camps are simply the family members of those deemed unfriendly to the regime, arbitrarily detained as a form of collective punishment.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of victims of enforced disappearances and abductions by North Korea Include nationals of South Korea, Japan, Lebanon and Thailand.

Are human rights improving under the new leadership of Kim Jong-Un?
No.

Unverified reports received by Amnesty International claim that the North Korean government has purged possibly hundreds of officials deemed to be a threat to Kim Jong-un’s succession, by having them executed or sent to political prison camps.. 

In 2011, as North Korea prepared for its leadership succession, prison camps appeared to be growing in size according to satellite imagery obtained by Amnesty International.

In March, analysis of new satellite images by Amnesty International showed that  North Korean government is blurring the lines between a political prison camp (kwanliso 14) and the surrounding population, raising fears of widescale increases in restrictions and controls of people living near prison camps.

In October 2012, there were reports that one political prison camp (kwanliso 22 in Hoeryong, North Hamkyung Province) was reportedly closed after Kim Jong-Un came to power, but what has happened to its 20-50,000 inmates is a mystery.

Are North Koreans still starving?
Despite small increases in household food consumption reportedly due to recent improved harvests, food insecurity and chronic malnutrition remain widespread, and millions remain dependent on food aid. 

Reports continue of people dying of starvation. Nearly a million North Koreans have starved to death since the 1990s.
The country’s famines and food crises have been largely invisible because of political controls, including restrictions on the movement of both North Koreans and staff of international humanitarian agencies, and the near-total suppression of freedom of expression, information and association.

Amnesty International has reported on the devastating human rights impact of North Korea’s food and health crisis.

How do people escape North Korea?
Despite tight restrictions on movement and dire consequences for breaching these,  tens of thousands of North Koreans take on the grave risks to cross the border without permission into China every year, most in search of food. China considers all undocumented North Koreans to be economic migrants and if caught, forcibly returns them to North Korea where they risk incarceration in the political prison camp system where conditions remain horrific. Inmates face torture and ill-treatment, and denial of food as punishment.

What do North Koreans in the country think about their situation?
We do not know, as there is no independent domestic media, no known independent opposition political parties, no independent civil society, and criticism of the government is punished by incarceration in a political prison camp or detention facility.

Are North Koreans on Twitter?
Only a select few people in the country have internet access, mostly through a closely monitored intranet network. Use of mobile phones is heavily restricted.

What is the international community doing about North Korea’s human rights crisis?
The UN Human Rights Council decided in March 2013 to establish a year long Commission of Inquiry to investigate a range of  “systematic, widespread and grave” human rights violations including crimes against humanity. in North Korea. Amnesty International welcomed the wide mandate given to the Commission. 

The move to establish the Commission has come after years of UN resolutions and condemnations targeting North Korea’s human rights record.

The North Korean authorities refuse to recognize or grant access to international human rights monitors, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea and international human rights organizations like Amnesty International.

What is Amnesty International's position on the use of nuclear weapons?
Amnesty International opposes the use, possession, production and transfer of nuclear weapons, given their indiscriminate nature.  Amnesty International also stresses that the use of chemical and biological weapons in armed conflicts is prohibited by international law (Biological Weapon Convention 1972, Chemical Weapons Convention 1992).

Country

North Korea 

Region

Asia And The Pacific 

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