Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has accepted and legislated its version of international human rights norms, human rights violations remain a commonplace reality in the DPRK.
By: Kim Jinsu
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (hereinafter DPRK) has one of the worst human rights records in the world and the egregious human rights violations in the country continue to date. The international community has long expressed concerns and urged North Korea to address such violations. In particular, the United Nations (hereinafter UN) General Assembly has adopted resolutions on North Korean human rights each year for 18 consecutive years from 2005 ― up to 2022. In addition, the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, a position first established in 2004, reports on the status of North Korea’s human rights to the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. The Commission of Inquiry (hereinafter COI) on Human Rights in the DPRK was also established in March 2013 to undertake a detailed fact-finding survey on human rights violations in North Korea and publish relevant reports. As the year 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of the COI, various measures are currently under discussion in the international community to draw global attention to North Korean human rights issues. At the national level, the United States (hereinafter the US) enacted the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004, while Japan legislated the Law Concerning Measures to Address the Abductions Issue and Other North Korean Human Rights Violations by North Korean Authorities in 2006. South Korea likewise enacted its North Korean Human Rights Act in 2016, and the European Union (hereinafter EU) has continued to co-sponsor a UN draft resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights violations. More recently, the Yoon Suk Yeol government has set enhancing human rights in North Korea as a major policy agenda as part of its initiative to achieve a denuclearized, peaceful, and prosperous Korean Peninsula.
North Korea has labeled the international community’s persistent attempts to raise awareness of its human rights issues as a political conspiracy by the US and hostile forces seeking to overthrow its political and social system. It is also strongly opposed to the international community’s efforts to file criminal charges against Kim Jong Un for human rights violations committed in North Korea, calling it an insult to the supreme dignity. While the North continues to vehemently resist pressure from the international community on its human rights issues, it has taken steps to improve human rights for vulnerable groups, including women, children, and persons with disabilities. However, while the DPRK has accepted and legislated its version of international human rights norms, human rights violations remain a commonplace reality in the DPRK. According to recent testimonies by North Korean defectors, the human rights situation in North Korea during the Kim Jong Un era is still deplorable, although some improvements have been made. For example, some testimonies claim that although public executions still take place under the Kim Jong Un regime, cases of torture and abuse in detention facilities have declined. In addition, intensive investment in the education sector and towards the vulnerable has been made, leading to improvements in terms of relevant facilities and treatment. However, the lives of many North Koreans have been aggravated following the outbreak of COVID-19 as a result of strengthened social controls alongside food and health issues under the pretext of disease control and prevention.