Human Rights in North Korea – By Poppy Growney

20 July 2018

This week I did my work experience at the Green Party in Brighton, I was asked to write a blog post about something which I was passionate about and this came into my mind. With all the media focusing on Trump and his visits to foreign countries, I couldn’t help but notice that Trump completely ignored all the issues surrounding North Korea and instead praised the dictatorial  leader of the country: Kim Jong-un. This is extremely worrying to me – that the leader of such a powerful country didn’t even raise awareness of such a huge issue which has been around for decades, for nearly a century. I hope this post can help to educate people further on the horrors which occur in this country and hopefully those people will be able to help.


Imagine that on a daily basis you were subjected to tiresome, forced manual labour and physical abuse. You had no right to free speech, no right to practice your choice of religion, and were discriminated against if you had a disability of some form. This is the reality of the lives of people incarcerated in the labour camps of North Korea.


Charity organisations such as Amnesty International  and the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea have estimated that there are around 200,000 prisoners inside these camps for political crimes alone. This means that there are around 200,000 people who are suffering in these inhumane conditions simply because they attempted to stand against the cruel regimes of the country.


Ex residents (also known as defectors) of North Korea have claimed that a “risky act” could be as simple as crossing out a politician’s name on a ballot card to show a disliking for them. Despite the fear which many citizens experience around expressing their own opinions about the government, the North Korean constitution claims that all citizens have guaranteed freedoms of speech and assembly; however; citizens are required to follow a socialist way of life and if they dare criticize the government they are sent to “re-education camps”, where they are threatened  with brutal torture and are forced to make false confessions for crimes they didn’t commit.


In North Korea there have been many cases in which the human right to food was violated, for example in a prison camp named Yodok, prisoners were given only corn rice in very small quantities, and sometimes they were only given salt soup with cabbage leaves. Many people died of malnutrition and it was said that when someone died, their fellow prisoners attempted to hide their death so they could claim another allocated meal. For punishment, many prisoners were starved as well as being subjected to torture and forced manual labour. In addition to this, food distribution around the state is incredibly unfair, as it favours those of higher social class and occupation. For example, higher ranking government and military workers receive much higher rations than those working in agricultural communities.


Another breach of human rights reported in North Korea is of the right to religion. This is due to the fact that many religions are not considered “authorised” by the government. Sources from Christian Solidarity Worldwide state that there have been numerous cases of people being sent to prison camps where they were tortured in horrific ways and subjected to other inhumane treatment for their faith.There have also been reports of public executions for acts as innocent as handing out bibles.


North Korea, as of 2017, places last on the freedom of press index, 180th of all countries included in the report. Rightfully so, as all media is strictly controlled and residents are only allowed to receive government provided television, radio and any other form of media. Attempting to receive or receiving any form of media from another country without state permission will result in being sent to a labour camp. It is also important to note that the media in North Korea is known to be hugely focused on political propaganda which promotes the characters of both Kim jong-un and Kim Il-sung ( the current and former leader of the worker’s party in North Korea) and frequently reminds the people of the country’s past grievances against other countries such as the United States and Japan.


The North Korean media has also been known for criticizing people of LGBTQIA+ groups and although it isn’t actually illegal for people to be openly homosexual, there have been a few cases when people were executed for engaging in homosexual behavior as the state government associates it with “bad habits of capitalists” in western countries, rather than part of “a socialist way of life”, despite sexual orientation having no relation whatsoever to where people stand politically. Not much is known about the treatment of transgender people in North Korea, however there is no known law which permits people to change their legal gender or no law to prevent people from doing so.


North Korean citizens are unable to travel freely around the world or even their own country unless granted permission by the government as both emigration and immigration are entirely controlled by the government in an incredibly strict manner. Very few people have access to fuel or transport ;however; some individuals such as elite military officers are allowed to have access to a car. There have also been many reported cases of forced resettlement of individuals and in some cases entire families, usually to be sent to prison camps.


It has been claimed by an ex-north korean resident (who worked as a doctor whilst living in North Korea) that babies born with “physical defects” were often murdered at birth immediately and buried .Other reports have reported that on some occasions disabled people have been “rounded up” and been forced to resettle an unknown location at “special camps”. Since then,  due to many people’s major concern over the treatment of disabled people in North Korea many charities such as Handicap International and The International Committee of the Red Cross helped set up a rehabilitation centre for disabled people  Pyongyang. Since the centre was built, reports have concluded that North Korea “has a comprehensive system for assisting persons with disabilities” but due the country’s current financial situation, the system is limited due to a lack of income.


Without the aid that charity organisations gave to help the disabled in North Korea, thousands of them would still be suffering today, or even worse, if the statement made by the  North Korean defector was true – thousands of babies would have been killed instead of being sent to places where they can gain access to aid. But so much more needs to be done. There are still people suffering in North Korea, still suffering unnecessarily, whether they commited crimes which are considered criminal, or “crimes” which aren’t criminal at all, nobody deserves to be starved, nobody deserves to be tortured, and nobody deserves to be forced to to manual labour when they aren’t given enough food to function. People in this country need help. They need your help.


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