Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Democratic People's Republic of Korea, 6 July 2011, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea, continued to be a state shrouded in secrecy throughout 2010. Nevertheless, reports from NGOs and international observers suggest that North Korea has done little to improve its deplorable human rights record.

The country is considered racially and ethnically homogeneous and there are no official minorities. However, there is reportedly a small Chinese community numbering around 50,000, as well as fewer than 2,000 ethnic Japanese women married to Korean men who returned to the North from Japan between 1959 and 1962.

North Korea's Constitution allows for freedom of religious belief, but this is limited to state-controlled places of worship. Government estimates in 2002, supplied to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, reported that there were roughly 12,000 Protestants, 10,000 Buddhists and 800 Catholics, though outside groups suggest the numbers are much higher.

Some foreigners living in the capital, Pyongyang, who attended sanctioned Christian churches reported that the services 'appeared staged and contained political content supportive of the government, in addition to religious themes'. It is believed that the government persecutes those who participate in 'unauthorized' religious gatherings. In August,, a Catholic news site, reported that authorities arrested 23 'underground Christians' who had congregated at a house in Pyongan province. Three people were tried and executed, the website reported, citing unnamed sources. 'Such sentences are meant to scare people', the source was quoted as saying.

In its annual report released in May, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom stated that imprisoning religious believers is a common practice in North Korea. Estimates suggest there are 40,000 religious prisoners currently being held throughout the country.

In March, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a strongly worded resolution that expressed 'serious concern at on-going grave, widespread and systematic human rights violations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea'. Five members voted against the resolution, including China and Russia. North Korea's delegate, in turn, reportedly criticized the resolution, saying that it was 'full of distortions and fabrications based on political bias'.

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