U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - North Korea
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1996|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - North Korea, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa251a.html [accessed 1 August 2015]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial KillingAccording to defector sources, the regime continued summary executions of political prisoners, political opponents, repatriated defectors, and others (reportedly including military officers suspected of plotting against Kim Jong Il). The Criminal Law makes the death penalty mandatory for activities "in collusion with imperialists" aimed at "suppressing the national liberation struggle." Some prisoners are sentenced to death for such ill-defined "crimes" as "ideological divergence," "opposing socialism," and other "counterrevolutionary crimes."
b. DisappearanceThere is no reliable information on disappearances within North Korea. However, there continued to be numerous reports of DPRK involvement in the kidnaping abroad of South Koreans, Japanese, and other foreign nationals. The Japanese press estimates that as many as 20 Japanese may have been kidnaped and remain in detention in North Korea. In addition, several cases of kidnaping, hostage taking, and other acts of violence allegedly intended to intimidate ethnic Koreans living in China and Russia were reported. The DPRK denies these reports. Amnesty International (AI) reports issued in 1993, 1994, and 1995 detail a number of cases, including that of Japanese citizen Shibata Kozo and his wife Shin Sung Suk, who left Japan in 1960 and resettled in North Korea. Mr. Shibata was reportedly arrested in 1962, allegedly after encouraging a demonstration against the poor treatment given to former residents of Japan. In 1993 AI claimed that he was still in custody, and in poor health. AI stated that there had been no word about his wife and three children since 1965. In June AI was informed by North Korean officials that Shibata Kozo, his wife, children, and grandchildren died in a train accident in early 1990, a few weeks after his release from nearly 30 years in prison. However, AI has received other reports that Shibata Kozo was still in custody at the time of the alleged accident. In another case cited by AI in 1993, North Korean officials informed AI in April that Japanese citizen Cho Ho Pyong, his ethnic Japanese wife Koike Hideko, and their three young children were killed in 1972, while attempting to flee the country. The North Korean authorities told AI that Cho had escaped from a detention center, where he was being held for spying, killing a guard. In September AI reported that three ethnic Korean residents of Beijing, China (ages 16, 18, and 20) had been taken to North Korea against their will in apparent retaliation for criticism of North Korean human rights violations made by their father, a former prisoner in North Korea, on Japanese television and in the Japanese press. The North Korean authorities deny this allegation, claiming that the three brothers had been deported to North Korea for breaking Chinese law, and that they are now living with relatives. AI has been unable to confirm this account and at year's end was still concerned about the welfare of the three brothers. Numerous reports indicate that ordinary citizens are not allowed to mix with foreign nationals, and AI reported that a number of North Koreans who maintained friendships with foreigners have disappeared. In at least one case, AI reported that a citizen who had disappeared was executed for maintaining a friendship with a Russian National.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or PunishmentWhile there is no information on recent practices, credible reports indicate that prisoners are routinely tortured or ill-treated, and that many prisoners have died from torture, disease, starvation, or exposure. There are increasing reports of executions reportedly carried out at public meetings and rallies attended by workers, students, and school children. Executions have also been carried out before assembled inmates at places of detention. According to international nongovernmental organization (NGO) and defector sources, whole families, including children, are imprisoned together. "Reeducation through labor" is common punishment, consisting of forced labor (logging, tending crops) under harsh conditions. A small number of people who claim to have escaped from North Korean detention camps report that starvation and executions are common. In one prison, clothing was reportedly issued only once in a 3-year period. Former inmates have produced photographs of an inmate wearing specially designed leg irons which permit walking but make running impossible. AI reports the existence of "punishment cells," too low to permit standing upright and too small for lying down flat, where prisoners are kept for up to several weeks for breaking prison rules. Recent visitors to North Korea report observing prisoners being marched in leg irons, metal collars, and shackles. With the exception of one model "rehabilitation center" visited by Amnesty International representatives, the Government has not permitted inspection of prisons by human rights monitors.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or ExileThere are no practical restrictions on the ability of the North Korean Government to detain and imprison residents of North Korea at will, and hold them incommunicado. Little information is available on North Korea's criminal justice procedures and practices, and outside observation of its legal system has been limited to apparent show trials on traffic violations and other minor offenses. Family members or other concerned persons find it virtually impossible to obtain information on charges against detained persons. Judicial review of detentions does not exist in law or in practice. Defectors claim that North Korea detains about 150,000 political prisoners and family members in maximum security camps in remote areas. An October 1992 report by two former inmates made reference to the severe living conditions in what they called "concentration camps." North Korean officials deny the existence of such gulags or prisons but admit the existence of "education centers" for people who "commit crimes by mistake." One credible report lists 12 such prison camps in the DPRK. It is believed that some former high officials are imprisoned in the camps. Any form of communication with detainees, including visitors, although once allowed, is now said to be prohibited. In July 1991, a North Korean defector who had been a ranking official in the Ministry of Public Security said that there were two types of detention areas. One consists of closed camps from which prisoners never emerge and where conditions are extremely harsh. In the other type, prisoners can be "rehabilitated."
e. Denial of Fair Public TrialThe Constitution states that courts are independent and that judicial proceedings are to be carried out in strict accordance with the law. The Constitution contains elaborate procedural guarantees, and it states that "cases are heard in public, and the accused is guaranteed the right to defense; hearings may be closed to the public as stipulated by law." However, an independent judiciary and individual rights do not exist in fact in the DPRK. The Public Security Ministry dispenses with trials in political cases and refers defendants to the Ministry of State Security for imposition of punishment. When trials are held, lawyers are apparently assigned by the Government. Reports indicate that defense lawyers are not considered representatives of the accused, but rather are expected to help the court by persuading the accused to confess guilt. Some reports note a distinction between those accused of political crimes and common criminals and state that the Government affords trials only to the latter. The Government considers critics of the regime to be "political criminals." Numerous reports suggest that political offenses have in the past included 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. A foreigner hired to work on foreign broadcasts for the regime in the 1970's was imprisoned for 1 year without trial for criticizing the quality of the regime's foreign propaganda, and then imprisoned for an additional 6 more years (with trial) shortly after his release for claiming in a private conversation that his original imprisonment was unjust. While AI has listed 58 political prisoners by name, the total number of political prisoners being held is unknown. Several defectors and former inmates reported that the total figure is approximately 150,000.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or CorrespondenceThe constitutional stipulation that "citizens are guaranteed the inviolability of person and residence and the privacy of correspondence" does not reflect reality. The Government relies upon an extensive, multilevel system of informers to identify critics and potential troublemakers. Whole communities are sometimes subjected to massive security checks. According to Kim Jong Il, North Korean society embodies "a new way of thinking" which cannot be evaluated on the basis of "old yardsticks" of human rights imported from abroad. In this context, the DPRK celebrates the closed nature of its society as a virtue. The possession of "reactionary material" and listening to foreign broadcasts are both considered crimes which may subject the transgressor to the death penalty. In some cases, entire families are punished for political offenses allegedly committed by one member of the family. The Government's ideology is derived from Marxist-Leninist concepts of collective consciousness and the "Juche" idea of self-reliance propounded by Kim Il Sung. Although Juche is generally translated as "self-reliance," it more literally means "the ability to act independently without regard to outside interference." Originally described as "a creative application of Marxism-Leninism" in the Korean context, Juche is a malleable philosophy, reinterpreted from time to time by the regime as its ideological needs change and used by the regime as a "spiritual" underpinning for its rule. As defined by Kim Il Sung, the Juche idea connotes a quasi-mystical concept in which the collective will of the people is distilled into a supreme leader whose every act is by definition in accordance with the State and society's needs. An October 1995 commentary in the North Korean press explained that "the leader is not an individual, but the brain of the revolution, the center of unity, and the supreme person who represents the popular masses." Opposition to such a leader, or to the rules, regulations, and goals established by his regime, is thus in itself opposition to the national interest. The regime therefore claims a social interest in identifying and isolating such people. The Government continued to classify citizens into three main classes: "core," "wavering," and "hostile." These 3 classes are further subdivided into over 50 subcategories based on perceived loyalty to the party and the leadership. Security ratings are assigned to each individual; according to some estimates, as much as 75 percent of the population is designated as either wavering or hostile. These loyalty ratings determine access to employment, higher education, place of residence, medical facilities, and certain stores, and affect the severity of punishment in the case of legal infractions. While there are signs that the Government has eased enforcement of this rigid system in recent years, it remains a basic feature of North Korean society. The authorities subject citizens in all age groups and occupations to intensive political and ideological indoctrination. Even after Kim Il Sung's death, his cult of personality and glorification of his family and the official Juche ideology continued to be omnipresent. The North Korean press regularly reports the occurrence of miracles on the anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth. The cult approaches the level of a state religion. The goal of indoctrination remains to ensure loyalty to the Kim Il Sung system and to his son and heir Kim Jong Il, as well as conformity to the State's ideology and authority. The necessity for intensification of such indoctrination is repeatedly stressed in the writings of Kim Jong Il, who attributes the collapse of the Soviet Union largely to insufficient ideological indoctrination, compounded by the entry of foreign influences. Indoctrination is carried out systematically not only through the mass media, but also in schools and through worker and neighborhood associations. Kim Jong Il has recently stated that ideological education must take precedence over academic education in the nation's schools, and has also called for the intensification of mandatory ideological study and discussion sessions for adult workers. One objective of these extended studies is to deny citizens sufficient leisure time in which to engage in undesirable activities or reflection. Another aspect of the State's indoctrination system is the use of mass marches, rallies, and staged performances, sometimes involving hundreds of thousands of people. The recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers' Party included several hours of carefully choreographed demonstrations of mass adulation of the leadership, reportedly involving virtually the entire population of Pyongyang and outlying communities. Foreign visitors were told that nonparticipation by Pyongyang residents in this event was unthinkable. Citizens with relatives who fled to South Korea at the time of the Korean War appear to be classified as part of the hostile class in the DPRK's elaborate loyalty system. This subcategory alone encompasses a significant percentage of the North Korean population. One defector estimated that the class of those considered potentially hostile may comprise 25 to 30 percent of the population; others place the figure at closer to 20 percent. Members of this class are subject to discrimination, although a defector has claimed that their treatment has improved greatly in recent years. The Government monitors correspondence and telephones. Telephones are restricted to domestic operation (see Section 2.a.).
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and PressArticles of the Constitution that require citizens to follow the "Socialist norms of life" and to obey a "collective spirit" take precedence over individual political or civil liberties. Although the Constitution provides for freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, the Government prohibits the exercise of these rights in practice. The regime permits only activities which support its objectives. The Government strictly curtails freedom of expression. The authorities may punish persons criticizing the regime or its policies by imprisonment or "corrective labor." One defector reported in 1986 that a scientist, whose home was bugged through his radio set, was arrested and executed for statements made at home that were considered critical of Kim Il Sung. In another case, AI reports that a family formerly resident in Japan was sent to a reeducation through labor center because one member of the family allegedly made remarks disparaging the Government. The Government attempts to control all information that enters and leaves the DPRK. It carefully manages the visits of Western journalists. Domestic media censorship is strictly enforced, and no deviation from the official government line is tolerated. The regime prohibits listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators are subject to severe punishment. Radios and television sets are built to receive only domestic programming; radios obtained from abroad must be submitted for alteration to operate in a similar manner. North Korea's private telephone lines operate on an internal system which prevents making or receiving calls from outside the country. Some foreign relatives of well-connected individuals are reportedly able to contact them through official telephone lines. The Government severely restricts academic freedom. The Government controls artistic and academic works, and visitors report that the primary function of plays, movies, operas, children's performances, and books is to contribute to the cult of personality surrounding Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and AssociationAlthough the Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, the Government does not respect these provisions in practice. The Government prohibits any public meetings without authorization. There are no known organizations other than those created by the Government. Professional associations exist solely to reinforce government monitoring and control over the members of these organizations.
c. Freedom of ReligionThe 1992 Constitution provides for the "freedom of religious belief" including, "the right to build buildings for religious use." However, the same article adds that "no one can use religion as a means to drag in foreign powers" or to disrupt the social order. In practice, the regime firmly discourages all organized religious activity except that which serves the interests of the State. As late as the 1980's, foreign visitors to North Korea were told that there were no churches in the country, and only a handful of Buddhist temples. However, in recent years, the regime has facilitated the formation of several government- sponsored religious organizations. These serve as interlocutors with foreign church groups and international aid organizations. Some foreigners who have met with representatives of these organizations are convinced that they are sincere believers; others claim that they appeared to know little about religious dogma, liturgy, or teaching. There are a few Buddhist temples where religious activity is permitted, and three Christian churches--two Protestant and one Catholic--have been opened since 1988 in Pyongyang. These appear to be the only active Christian churches in the country. Many visitors say that church activity appears staged. Foreign Christians who have attempted to attend services at these churches without making prior arrangements with the authorities report finding them locked and unattended, even on Easter Sunday. The DPRK claims there are 10,000 Christians who worship in 500 house churches, and that the Chondogyo Young Friends Party, a government-sponsored group based on a native Korean religious movement, is still in existence. The authorities have told foreign visitors that one Protestant seminary exists, accepting six to nine pupils every 3 years.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and RepatriationThe regime strictly controls internal travel, requiring a travel pass for any movement outside one's home village; these passes are granted only for official travel or attendance at a relative's wedding or funeral. Long delays in obtaining the necessary permit often result in denial of the right to travel even for these limited purposes. As an additional means of control, travelers must produce special "travelers coupons" in order to buy food on trains or at restaurants or shops. Only members of a very small elite have vehicles for personal use. The regime tightly controls access to civilian aircraft, trains, buses, food, and fuel. Reports, primarily from defectors, indicate that the Government routinely uses forced resettlement, particularly for those deemed politically unreliable. The Government strictly controls permission to reside in, or even enter, Pyongyang. This is a significant lever as food, housing, health, and general living conditions are reportedly much better in Pyongyang than in the rest of the country. Diplomatic and press reports concur that the DPRK began an intensive effort in 1995 to reduce significantly the population of Pyongyang due to concerns about overcrowding. Hundreds of thousands of people were reportedly required to relocate out of the city. The regime limits foreign travel to officials and trusted artists, athletes, academics, and representatives of religions. It does not allow emigration, although there have been a limited number of defections. Recently, the number of defectors has increased. The regime reportedly retaliates harshly against the relatives of those few persons who manage to escape. According to the Penal Code, defection and attempted defection (including the attempt to gain entry to a foreign embassy for the purpose of seeking political asylum) are capital crimes. Defectors and other sources report that involuntarily repatriated defectors are routinely executed. As a rule, the regime does not allow students to study abroad except in China and a few other friendly countries. From 1959 to 1982, 93,000 Korean residents of Japan, including 6,637 Japanese wives, voluntarily repatriated to North Korea. Despite regime assurances that the wives, 1,828 of whom still had Japanese citizenship, would be allowed to go home to Japan every 2 or 3 years, none is known to have done so. Most have not been heard of since, and their relatives and friends in Japan have been unsuccessful in their efforts to gain information about their condition and whereabouts. Although over the past decade the DPRK has permitted an increasing number of overseas Korean residents of North America, Japan, China, and other countries to visit their relatives in North Korea, most requests for such visits are still denied. Many foreign visitors to the April International Pyongyang Sports Festival reported that they were denied permission to visit or otherwise contact their relatives, even those who lived only a few miles from Pyongyang. The DPRK does not participate in United Nations or other international refugee forums, and it is not in contact with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their GovernmentCitizens have no right or practical means to change their government. The political system is completely dominated by the KWP, with Kim Il Sung's heir Kim Jong Il apparently in control. There is very little hard information available on intraregime politics following Kim Il Sung's death. The legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly, which meets only a few days a year, serves only to rubber-stamp resolutions presented to it by the party leadership. In an effort to create the appearance of democracy, the DPRK has created several "minority parties." Lacking grassroots organization, they exist only as rosters of officials with token representation in the Supreme People's Assembly. Their primary purpose appears to be that of promoting government objectives abroad as touring parliamentarians. Free elections do not exist in North Korea, and Kim Jong Il has derided the concept of free elections and competition among political parties as an artifact of capitalist decay. Elections to the Supreme People's Assembly and to provincial, city, and county assemblies are held irregularly. In all cases there is only one government-approved candidate in each electoral district. According to the media, over 99 percent of the voters turn out to elect 100 percent of the candidates approved by the KWP. The vast majority of the KWP's estimated 3 million members (in a population of 22 million) work to implement decrees formulated by the party's small elite. Few women have reached high levels of the party or the Government.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human RightsThe Government does not permit any independent domestic organizations to monitor human rights conditions or to comment on violations of such rights. A North Korean Human Rights Committee established in 1992 denies the existence of any human rights violations in North Korea and is merely a propaganda arm of the regime. However, by offering international human rights organizations an identifiable official interlocutor, the new body facilitates their ability to enter into two-way communication with the regime. AI representatives visited the DPRK in 1991 and 1995 and met officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Public Security, as well as judges, lawyers, and legal scholars. The Government has ignored requests for visits to the DPRK by other international human rights organizations.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social StatusThe Constitution provides for equal rights for all citizens. However, the Government denies its citizens most fundamental human rights.
WomenThere is no information available on violence against women. The Constitution states that "women hold equal social status and rights with men." Women are represented proportionally in the labor force, with the exception of small factories in which the work force is predominantly female. Like men, working age women do not have the option not to work. They are thus required to leave their preschool children in the care of elderly relatives or in state nurseries. However, according to the Constitution, women with large families are guaranteed shortened working hours.
ChildrenSocial norms reflect traditional, family centered values in which children are cherished. The State provides education for all children. There is no available evidence of a pattern of societal abuse of children. However, some children are denied educational opportunities and subjected to other punishments and disadvantages as a result of the loyalty classification system and the principle of "collective retribution" for the transgressions of their parents. Like others in North Korean society, children are the object of intense political indoctrination; even mathematics textbooks propound the party line. In addition, foreign visitors to North Korea and academic sources report that children are subjected to several hours a week of mandatory military training and indoctrination at their schools from an early age. School children are sometimes sent to work temporarily in factories or in the fields to assist in completing special projects or in meeting production goals.
People with DisabilitiesTraditional social norms condone discrimination against the physically disabled. Disabled persons are almost never seen within the city limits of Pyongyang, and several defectors and other former North Korea residents report that disabled persons are routinely assigned to the rural areas. There are no legally mandated provisions for accessibility to buildings or government services for the disabled.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of AssociationNongovernmental labor unions do not exist. The Korean Workers' Party purports to represent the interests of all labor. There is a single labor organization, called the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea, which is affiliated with the formerly Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions. Operating under this umbrella, unions function on the classic Stalinist model, with responsibility for mobilizing workers behind production goals and for providing health, education, cultural, and welfare facilities. They do not have the right to strike. North Korea is not a member of, but has observer status with, the International Labor Organization.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain CollectivelyWorkers have no right to organize or to bargain collectively. Wages are set by government ministries. The State assigns all jobs. Ideological purity is as important as professional competence in deciding who receives a particular job, and foreign companies that establish joint ventures in North Korea report that all their employees must be hired from lists submitted by the KWP. Factory and farm workers are organized into councils, which do have an impact upon management decisions.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory LaborThere is no prohibition on the use of forced or compulsory labor, and the Government routinely uses military conscripts for construction projects. Reformatory labor and reeducation through labor are common punishments for political offenses. AI reports that forced labor, such as logging and tending crops, is common among prisoners.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of ChildrenAccording to the Constitution, the State prohibits work by children under the age of 16 years. As education is universal and mandatory until age 15, it is believed that this regulation is enforced.
e. Acceptable Conditions of WorkThe Constitution states that all working-age citizens must participate in work, and "strictly observe labor discipline and working hours." The Penal Code states that anyone who hampers the nation's industry, commerce, or transportation through purposefully failing to carry out a specific assignment "while pretending to be functioning normally" is subject to the death penalty; it also states that anyone who "shoddily carries out" an assigned duty is subject to no less than 5 years' imprisonment. Even persistent tardiness may be defined as "anti-Socialist wrecking" under these articles. A DPRK official praised the North Korean labor force to an audience of foreign business executives by noting that "there are no riots, no strikes, and no differences of opinion" with management. The Financial Times reported in September that the minimum wage for workers in foreign joint ventures is $80 a month (about 168 North Korean won); no data are currently available on the minimum wage in state-owned industries. Wages and rations appear to be adequate to support workers and their families at a basic subsistence level. Wages are not the primary form of compensation since the State provides all educational and medical needs free of charge, while most goods are distributed according to a rationing system, and only token rent is charged. In 1994 new labor regulations for foreign-funded enterprises were reportedly adopted by the Administration Council. Referring to labor contracts, they set out provisions on the employment and dismissal of workers, technical training, work hours, rest periods, remuneration, labor protection, social security, fines for violations of regulations, and settlement of disputes. The Constitution stipulates an 8-hour workday, but several sources report that most laborers work 12 to 16 hours daily. Some of this additional time may represent mandatory study of the writings of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The Constitution provides all citizens with a "right to rest," including paid leave, holidays, and access to sanitariums and rest homes funded at public expense. The actual availability of these protections in practice is unknown.
* The United States does not have diplomatic relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. North Korea does not allow representatives of foreign governments, journalists, or other invited visitors the freedom of movement that would enable them to assess human rights conditions there. This report is based on information obtained over a period of time extending from well before 1995, as updated where possible by information drawn from recent interviews, reports, and documentation. While limited in detail, this information is nonetheless indicative of the human rights situation in North Korea today.