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White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, 2015

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Author Do Kyung-okKim, Soo-AmHan Dong-hoLee, Keum-soonHong Min
Publish Date / Page 2015 / 524 p. :
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Preface _ 16

Chapter Ⅰ Purpose for Publication and Research Methodology
1 Purpose for Publication _ 24
2 Research Methodology _ 26

Chapter Ⅱ International Human Rights Standards and Human Rights in North Korea
1 International Human Rights Law _ 34
2 North Korea and International Human Rights Law _ 37
3 International Responses to the Human Rights Situation in North Korea _ 42

Chapter Ⅲ The Reality of Civil and Political Rights
1 Right to Life _ 48
2 Right to Liberty and Security of Person, and Right to Humane
Treatment in Detention _ 71
3 Right to a Fair Trial _ 133
4 Right to Equality _ 162
5 Freedom of Residence, Movement and Travel _ 200
6 Freedom of Religion and Conscience _ 216
7 Freedom of the Press and Publication, and Freedom of Assembly and Association _ 240
8 Right to Political Participation _ 256

Chapter Ⅳ The Reality of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
1 Right to Food _ 268
2 Right to Health _ 298
3 Right to Work _ 322
4 Right to Education _ 336

Chapter Ⅴ The Reality of Human Rights of Vulnerable Groups
1 Women _ 352
2 Children _ 382
3 Persons with Disabilities _ 399

Chapter Ⅵ North Korean Defectors and Other Humanitarian Issues
1 North Korean Defectors _ 428
2 Separated Families _ 476
3 Abductees _ 489
4 Korean War POWs _ 513
The 2015 edition of the White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea marks the 20th year of the series since its first publication in 1996. This White Paper is based on in-depth interviews with 221 of the 1,396 North Koreans who escaped to South Korea in 2014. These samples were selected with their demographic characteristics and social backgrounds taken into account. Below are the key highlights of the survey:


In its national report for the Universal Periodic Review submitted to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council on January 30, 2014, North Korea explained that death penalty is applied to extremely restricted cases. In reality, however, North Korea has an extensive list of crimes punishable by the death penalty, defined not just by the Criminal Law but also by its Addendum; the death penalty may also be imposed by promulgations, instructions and other alternative formats. North Korean defectors, who have witnessed the death penalty carried out in public, have provided testimony that it has actually been given for a wide range of crimes. Of special note is that over the last few years, the number of people put to death for watching/distributing South Korean video recordings or smuggling/trafficking narcotics is on a remarkable rise. This was widely observed in our 2014 survey, too.


Human rights violations in ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso), labor training camps (rodongdanryundae), holding centers (jipkyulso), detention centers, political prison camps (kwanliso), and other detention facilities are still known to be serious. Inhumane treatment including torture and beatings are part of the daily routine; nutrition, medical care, and hygiene are also very poor. In our 2014 survey, however, some interviewees suggested that the human rights conditions in ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso) were improving somewhat. North Korean defector XXX, who was held for a long time at the Jongori kyohwaso, where a massive number of violent incidents and human rights violations reportedly took place, explained that beatings at the kyohwaso was on the decrease. North Korean defector XXX, who had been detained at the Jongori kyohwaso until recently, said that strenuous effort was being made to bring fatal incidents under control as the reality of the human rights infringements at the kyohwaso were known to the outside world through former inmates.


Meanwhile, the 2014 survey results include testimonies on those released from political prison camps (kwanliso) in 2012 and 2013 ―after Kim Jong-un took over as the new leader of North Korea. Witnesses explained that their release was “based on Kim Jong-un’s policy that those who have one percent of a conscience are given a second chance despite 99 percent of their faults”; and that “these people were released as Kim Jong-un, upon taking office, told those whose crimes were motivated by personal grievance, as opposed to criticism of the state, should be freed, which is within the context of his politics of law.” Similar cases can be found in North Korea’s On-site Open Trials System, too. Testimonies from North Korean defectors show that, when On-site Open Trials were conducted for a large number of people held for the same charge, some of them are executed immediately in public as “examples”
while others are found innocent and released, allegedly due to Kim Jong-un’s consideration or policy. While unleashing a reign of terror against the power elites, the young leader seems to be seeking to present himself to ordinary citizens as a leader who loves the people. Nonetheless, the very fact that these measures are possible shows his policies and instructions have supra-legal authority in North Korea.


A typical infringement on freedom of residence, the practice of forced deportation is still found to be widespread. North Korean defector XXX testified that in 2013, during his on-site instructions in Musan, Kim Jong-un ordered transformation of the city boundaries into an exemplary area. This led to the forced deportation of more than 600 households living within 300 meters of the city boundaries. Such massive involuntary relocation was enforced primarily upon family members of illegal border crossers or those with criminal records (such as illegal use of a mobile phone). A number of testimonies also suggested that forced deportation has been on the increase since mid-2013 in Samjiyon County, within which is the hometown of Kim Jong-il. In particular, those whose parents are from rural areas, former detainees at ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso) and their family members, and illegal border crossers are first to be relocated.


According to the 2014 survey results, little progress has been made in improving North Koreans’ rights to food and health. When it comes to the right to food, the total volume of food available has increased since 2010, but North Korea’s discriminatory distribution policies has led to continued discrepancy among ordinary citizens in their access to food. Collection of excessive amounts of produce from farm workers, in particular, has undermined their right to food on a continuous basis. This seems partly attributable to the assignment of unrealistically high production quota and the falsification of distribution documents. Excluded from the Public Distribution System (PDS), marginalized members of North Korean society tap into money offered by loan sharks to deal with the scarcity, ending up suffering even more. In the 2014 survey, however, a large number of interviewees said the public distribution supply has temporarily improved since 2012 as North Korean authorities released military provisions.


As for the right to health, the uneven distribution of resources as a result of economic hardship and military-first politics has destroyed the medical system as a whole. The absolute lack of medicine and basic medical equipment has continued, while some interviewees pointed out in the 2014 survey that an increasing amount of medicine was being provided by Jungsung Pharmaceuticals. Meanwhile, as the North’s free treatment system is not working properly, patients in need of surgery often end up paying for the related costs for themselves. The military ranks are also seeing their right to health deteriorating: Some interviewees stated that the military was also short on medicine, and not just civil society.
The community doctor system and other mechanisms of preventive medicine propagandized by the North Korean authorities are not functioning properly. Community doctors are currently incapable of treating patients and can only issue medical certificates; they are known to work primarily on vaccinations (such as preventive injections against epidemics). A large number of interviewees in the 2014 survey said that vaccination was being offered. Vaccination seems to be improving efforts to prevent disease. Areas receiving aid from the UN and other international actors also enjoy relatively better medical treatment.


Despite many constraints and the resulting shortcomings, we hope that this White Paper will draw more attention at home and abroad to the issue of human rights in North Korean while contributing to domestic and international discussion and action on improving the situation.


Last but not least, we would like to thank our researchers In-sook Kim, Ye-sun Hong, and Myung-ah Son for their hard work and dedication throughout the whole process―from in-depth interviews with North Korean defectors to publication. Our sincere gratitude also goes to another researcher of ours, Hee-jin Shin, and our intern Eun-jee Cha who helped with proofreading and editing the manuscript.