*EPF212 04/01/2003
Excerpt: Human Rights Norms Are "Alien Concepts" in North Korea
(State Department's 2002 Human Rights Report cites abuses) (3620)

The dictatorship that rules the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) views international human rights norms, particularly individual rights, as "illegitimate, alien, and subversive to the goals of the State and Party," according to the State Department's 2002 Human Rights Report on North Korea.

The annual report harshly criticizes the Kim Jong Il regime for gross violations of basic human rights in 2002. The State Department document recounts reports of extrajudicial killings and disappearances along with arbitrary detainment of citizens.

An estimated 200,000 political prisoners are detained under harsh conditions in North Korea's prisons. "Female prisoners underwent forced abortion, and in other cases babies reportedly were killed upon birth in prisons," the report notes.

Execution is a common punishment for petty crimes. According to the report: "Capital punishment and confiscation of assets for a wide variety of 'crimes against the revolution,' including defection, attempted defection, slander of the policies of the Party or State, and listening to foreign broadcasts."

Civil liberties, such as freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association, are all under the tight control of Party.

The complete Department of State report on North Korea can be found online at:


Following are excerpts from the Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 for North Korea:

(begin excerpt)

Korea, Democratic People's Republic of

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

March 31, 2003

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is a dictatorship under the absolute rule of Kim Jong Il, who has exercised unchallenged authority since his father Kim Il Sung died in 1994. He was named General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party (KWP) in October 1997. In September 1998, the Supreme People's Assembly reconfirmed Kim Jong Il as Chairman of the National Defense Commission and declared that position the "highest office of state." The presidency was abolished, leaving the late Kim Il Sung as the DPRK's "eternal president." The Korean People's Army continued to displace the KWP as Kim Jong Il's chief instrument for making and implementing policy. The titular head of state is Kim Yong Nam, the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly. Both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il continue to be the objects of intense personality cults. The regime continues to emphasize "juche," a national ideology of self-reliance. The judiciary is not independent.

The Korean People's Army is the primary organization responsible for external security. It is assisted by a large military reserve force and several quasi-military organizations, including the Worker-Peasant Red Guards and the People's Security Force. These organizations also assisted the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and the KWP in maintaining internal security. Members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses.

The State directed all significant economic activity, and only government-controlled labor unions were permitted in this country of 22 million persons. Industry continued to operate at significantly reduced capacity, reflecting antiquated plant and equipment and severe shortages of inputs, due in part to the sharp decline in trade and aid that followed the collapse of the former Soviet Union and East European Communist governments. Efforts at recovery have been hampered by heavy military spending, which amounted to approximately one quarter of gross domestic product (GDP) before the economy went into decline and was probably an even larger share of national output during the year. The economy was also hampered by a lack of access to commercial lending stemming from the country's default on its foreign debt and its inability to obtain loans from international financial institutions. Rarely food self-sufficient, the country relied on international aid and trade to supplement domestic production, which has been hobbled by disastrous agricultural policies. From 1995 to 1997, famine caused internal dislocation and widespread malnutrition, and an estimated 1 to 2 million persons, or possibly as much as 10 percent of the population, died from starvation and related diseases.

Economic and political conditions have caused at least tens of thousands of persons to flee their homes. The Government continued to seek international food aid, produce "alternative foods," and take other steps to boost production. It permitted the spread of farmers' markets to compensate for the contraction of food supplied through the public distribution system. Food, clothing, and energy were rationed throughout the country. The U.N.'s World Food Program provided assistance to children and mothers, and the elderly. According to South Korean figures, North Korea's GDP began to grow slightly in 2000, but this was due largely to international aid and South Korean investment and followed years of steady decline during which GDP was estimated to have shrunk by half since 1993. In mid-year, North Korea raised wages and prices drastically and announced a shift in management methods towards granting managers more responsibility. However, these changes failed to have the desired impact on the country's economy, as inflation rose dramatically in the later months of the year. The creation of a Special Administrative Region (SAR) in Sinuiju was announced but encountered immediate difficulties; the Sinuiju SAR is planned as an autonomous region with its own legislative, administrative, and judicial systems, intended to specialize in light industries in line with the July economic reform measures.

The Government's human rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Citizens did not have the right peacefully to change their government, and the leadership viewed most international human rights norms, particularly individual rights, as illegitimate, alien, and subversive to the goals of the State and Party. There continued to be reports of extrajudicial killings and disappearances. Citizens were detained arbitrarily, and many were held as political prisoners. Prison conditions were harsh, and torture was reportedly common. Female prisoners underwent forced abortions, and in other cases babies reportedly were killed upon birth in prisons. The constitutional provisions for an independent judiciary and fair trials were not implemented in practice. The regime subjected its citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives. A human rights dialogue initiated by the European Union in 2001 led to another exchange of views in June 2002 in Pyongyang, but the Government did not acknowledge that international standards of human rights apply to North Korea. The Penal Code is Draconian, stipulating capital punishment and confiscation of assets for a wide variety of "crimes against the revolution," including defection, attempted defection, slander of the policies of the Party or State, listening to foreign broadcasts, writing "reactionary" letters, and possessing reactionary printed matter. Citizens were denied freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association, and all forms of cultural and media activities were under the tight control of the Party. Little outside information reached the public except that which was approved and disseminated by the Government. The Government restricted freedom of religion, citizens' movement, and worker rights. There were reports of trafficking in women and young girls among refugees and workers crossing the border into China.


Defectors and refugees have reported that the regime executed political prisoners, opponents of the regime, some repatriated defectors, and others, reportedly including military officers suspected of espionage or of plotting against Kim Jong Il. Criminal law makes the death penalty mandatory for activities "in collusion with imperialists" aimed at "suppressing the national liberation struggle." Some prisoners were sentenced to death for such ill-defined "crimes" as "ideological divergence," "opposing socialism," and other "counterrevolutionary crimes." In some cases, executions reportedly were carried out at public meetings attended by workers, students, and school children. Executions also were carried out before assembled inmates at places of detention. Border guards reportedly had orders to shoot to kill potential defectors. Similarly, prison guards were under orders to shoot to kill those attempting escape in political concentration camps, according to defectors.

Defectors have reported that government officials prohibited live births in prison. Forced abortion and the killing of newborn babies reportedly were standard prison practices (see Section 1.c.).

Religious and human rights groups outside the country reported that some members of underground churches were killed because of their religious beliefs and suspected contacts with overseas evangelical groups operating across the Chinese border (see Section 2.c.).

Many prisoners reportedly have died from disease, starvation, or exposure (see Section 1.c.).

According to some humanitarian organizations, the Government has channeled international food and medical aid to the party elite, military personnel, and other persons viewed as loyal to the regime.

The Government reportedly was responsible for cases of disappearance. According to recent defector reports, individuals suspected of political crimes often were taken from their homes by state security officials late at night and sent directly, without trial, to camps for political prisoners. There are no restrictions on the ability of the Government to detain and imprison persons at will and to hold them incommunicado, without notifying detainees' relatives.

There also were long-standing reports of past government involvement in the kidnapping abroad of South Koreans, Japanese, and other foreign nationals. On September 17, Kim Jong Il admitted to Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi that the Government had abducted 13 Japanese citizens during the 1970s. According to Japanese government officials, these abductions took place between 1977 and 1983. Government spies used the identities of some of the victims, and some of the victims were forced to provide training in Japanese language and customs. The Government allowed five surviving victims to visit Japan in October for 1 week, but the victims have remained in Japan since that time. The Government alleged that the remaining 8 are deceased. There was speculation, not officially confirmed by the Japanese Government or the DPRK Government, that the DPRK Government has abducted many more Japanese residents over the years....

Torture is not prohibited by law. Methods of torture reportedly routinely used on political prisoners included severe beatings, electric shock, prolonged periods of exposure, humiliations such as public nakedness, and confinement to small "punishment cells," in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down, where they could be held for several weeks. According to defector reports, many prisoners died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure, or a combination of these causes. The U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea claimed that approximately 400,000 persons died in prison since 1972.

Recent crackdowns in China on prostitution and forced marriages resulted in the deportation of thousands of North Korean women, some of whom were pregnant, and many were imprisoned upon their return to the country. There were reports that North Korean officials prohibited live births in prison and that a policy of forced abortion was regularly implemented, particularly in those detention centers holding women repatriated from China. In those cases where live births did occur, the babies reportedly were immediately killed. In addition, guards sexually abused female prisoners.

Prison conditions were harsh; starvation and executions were common. Entire families, including children, were imprisoned when one member of the family was accused of a crime. "Reeducation through labor" was a common punishment, consisting of forced labor, such as logging and tending crops, under harsh conditions. Visitors to the country observed prisoners being marched in leg irons, metal collars, or shackles. In some places of detention, prisoners were given little or no food and, when they contracted illnesses, were denied medical care. In one prison, clothing reportedly was issued only once in 3 years.

In June Lee Soon-ok, a woman who spent several years in a prison camps before fleeing first to China in 1994 and then to South Korea, testified before the U.S. Senate that the approximately 1,800 inmates in this particular camp in those years typically worked 16 to 17 hours a day. Lee Soon-ok witnessed severe beatings and torture involving water forced into a victim's stomach with a rubber hose and pumped out by guards jumping on a board placed across the victim's abdomen, and reported that chemical and biological warfare experiments were conducted on inmates by the army. Other defectors reported similar experiences. At Camp 22 in Haengyong, approximately 50,000 prisoners worked under conditions that reportedly resulted in the death of 20 to 25 percent of the prison population annually in the 1990s....

There are no restrictions on the ability of the Government to detain and imprison persons at will and to hold them incommunicado....

During the year, an estimated 200,000 persons were in detention for political reasons in camps in remote areas. The Government denied the existence of prison camps for political prisoners, which are marked as military areas to prevent access by the local population. In recent years, the Government reportedly reduced the total number of prison camps from approximately 20 to less than 10, but the prison population was consolidated rather than reduced. In addition to these camps for political prisoners, there reportedly were approximately 30 forced labor and labor education camps in the country for ordinary criminals serving shorter terms. The Government did admit that there were "education centers" for persons who "committed crimes by mistake." A defector who had been a ranking official in the Ministry of Public Security stated that conditions in the camps for political prisoners were extremely harsh and prisoners never emerged. In these camps, prisoners received little food and no medical provisions. In the labor camps, however, prisoners could be "rehabilitated." . . .

Numerous reports suggested that political offenses have in the past included such behavior as sitting on newspapers bearing Kim Il Sung's picture, or, in the case of a professor reportedly sentenced to work as a laborer, noting in class that Kim Il Sung had received little formal education. The KWP has a special regulation protecting the images of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. All citizens are required by this regulation to protect from damage any likeness of the two Kims. Beginning in the 1970s, the Ten Great Principles of Unique Ideology directed that anyone who tore or otherwise defaced a newspaper photo of either of the two Kims was a political criminal and should be punished as such. Defectors have reported families being punished because children had accidentally defaced photographs of one of the two Kims. Families were required to display pictures of the two leaders in their homes, and if local party officials found that the family had neglected its photos, the family could be forced to write self-criticisms throughout an entire year....

The authorities subjected citizens of all age groups and occupations to intensive political and ideological indoctrination. After Kim Il Sung's death, his cult of personality and the glorification of his family and the official juche ideology remained omnipresent, approaching the level of a state religion. The indoctrination was intended to ensure loyalty to the system and leadership, as well as conformity to the State's ideology and authority. The necessity for the intensification of such indoctrination repeatedly was stressed in the writings of Kim Jong Il, who attributed the collapse of the Soviet Union largely to insufficient ideological indoctrination, compounded by the entry of foreign influences.

Indoctrination was carried out systematically, not only through the mass media, but also in schools and through worker and neighborhood associations. Kim Jong Il has stated that ideological education must take precedence over academic education in the nation's schools, and he also called for the intensification of mandatory ideological study and discussion sessions for adult workers....


The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press; however, the Government prohibited the exercise of these rights in practice. Articles of the Constitution that require citizens to follow "socialist norms of life" and to obey a "collective spirit" take precedence over individual political and civil liberties. The regime only permitted activities that supported its objectives.

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly: however, the Government did not respect this provision in practice. The Government prohibited any public meetings without authorization.

The Constitution provides for freedom of association; however, the Government did not respect this provision in practice. There were no known organizations other than those created by the Government. Professional associations existed primarily to facilitate government monitoring and control over the organizations' members.

The Constitution provides for "freedom of religious belief"; however, in practice the Government discouraged organized religious activity except that which was supervised by officially recognized groups. In 1992 a constitutional change authorized religious gatherings, provided for "the right to build buildings for religious use," and deleted a clause about freedom of antireligious propaganda. The Constitution also stipulates that religion "should not be used for purposes of dragging in foreign powers or endangering public security." Genuine religious freedom did not exist....

The number of religious believers was unknown but has been estimated by the media and religious groups at 10,000 Protestants, 10,000 Buddhists, and 4,000 Catholics, in addition to an undetermined number of persons belonging to underground Christian churches. Some sources estimated that as many as 500 informal Christian congregations were active during the year. In its July 30 report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the Government reported the existence of 500 "family worship centers," an apparent reference to these congregations. Some reports indicated that such "house churches" have been increasingly tolerated so long as they do not openly proselytize or have contact with foreign missionaries. The Chondogyo Young Friends Party, a government-sponsored group based on a traditional Korean religious movement, also remained in existence....

The Constitution provides for the "freedom to reside in or travel to any place"; however, the Government did not respect these rights in practice. In the past, the regime has controlled strictly internal travel, requiring a travel pass for any movement outside one's home village. These passes were granted only for official travel or attendance at a relative's wedding or funeral. Long delays in obtaining the necessary permit often resulted in denial of the right to travel even for these limited purposes. In recent years, it appeared that the internal controls on travel have eased significantly. Due to the worsening food conditions in the country, the Government at times took a benign approach to those who violated internal travel rules, allowing citizens to leave their villages to search for food, and there were reports of large-scale movement of persons across the country in search of food. Only members of a very small elite had vehicles for personal use. The regime tightly controlled access to civilian aircraft, trains, buses, food, and fuel.

The Government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food supplies, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country....


Citizens have no right or mechanisms to change their leadership or government peacefully. The political system was dominated by the Korean Workers' Party and Korean People's Army, with Kim Il Sung's heir, Kim Jong Il, in control. Very little reliable information was available on intraregime politics following Kim Il Sung's death. The legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), which meets only a few days per year, served only to rubber-stamp resolutions presented to it by the party leadership. In 1997 Kim Jong Il acceded to the position of General Secretary of the KWP. In 1998 the SPA reconfirmed Kim as the Chairman of the National Defense Commission and declared that position to be the "highest office of State." The Government adopted a "military first" policy that formalized and legitimated the growing power and influence of the military. The presidency was abolished, leaving the late Kim Il Sung as the country's only President. The titular head of state is Kim Yong Nam, the President of the Presidium of the SPA.

The regime justified its dictatorship with arguments derived from concepts of collective consciousness and the superiority of the collective over the individual, appeals to nationalism, and citations of "the juche idea." The authorities emphasized that the core concept of juche is "the ability to act independently without regard to outside interference." Originally described as "a creative application of Marxism-Leninism" in the national context, juche is a malleable philosophy reinterpreted from time to time by the regime as its ideological needs change. It was used by the regime as a "spiritual" underpinning for its rule.


The Constitution grants equal rights to all citizens. However, the Government denied its citizens most fundamental human rights in practice, and there was pervasive discrimination on the basis of social status....

The WFP reported feeding 4 million North Korean children during the year. In some remote provinces, many persons reportedly appeared to be suffering from long-term malnutrition. A nutrition survey carried out in 2000 by UNICEF and the WFP in the aftermath of flood disasters found that 16 percent of children under 7 years of age suffered from acute malnutrition and that 62 percent suffered from stunted growth. In 1997 a senior UNICEF official said that approximately 80,000 children in the country were in immediate danger of dying from hunger and disease; 800,000 more were suffering from malnutrition to a serious but lesser degree.

In practice children did not enjoy any more civil liberties than adults. The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has repeatedly expressed concern over de facto discrimination against children with disabilities and the insufficient measures taken by the state party to ensure that these children have effective access to health, education, and social services, and to facilitate their full integration into society....

(end excerpt)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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