Amnesty International Report 1998 - Korea (Democratic People's Republic of)

(This report covers the period January-December 1997) The country remained closed to human rights monitors. The government's decision to withdraw from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (iccpr) was not accepted by the UN. Kim Jong Il was nominated as General Secretary of the ruling Korean Workers' Party (kwp) in October. This was the first major step taken by the Government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (dprk), North Korea, to clarify institutional arrangements since the death in 1994 of former leader Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il's father. Although Kim Jong Il had apparently held effective power since before his father's death, the leadership of both the kwp and the state had remained vacant. The post of President of the dprk remained unfilled at the end of the year. Kim Jong Il's nomination as kwp leader did not take place during a formal kwp Congress, as was believed to be required by kwp rules, but his name was reported to have been put forward at a series of regional kwp meetings and endorsed by the central leadership of the kwp.   For the third consecutive year the population suffered severe food shortages. Few official statistics were available about the extent of the shortages but some observers from non-governmental organizations estimated that several thousand children had died every month as a result of malnutrition. Estimates also suggested that more than two million people had died in the last three years as a result of the food shortages, but the authorities' continued refusal to allow adequate monitoring of the situation hampered accurate evaluations. Official statements blamed the shortages on floods in 1995 and 1996 and on exceptional drought in 1997. However, it became increasingly clear during the year that long-standing agricultural practices and a lack of necessary materials such as fertilizer contributed to the loss of output, while the collapse of trade with former socialist states had removed a major source of imports. In August the dprk informed the UN that it had decided to withdraw from the iccpr with immediate effect and to suspend its reporting to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The dprk stated that it had taken these steps in protest against a resolution critical of the human rights situation in the dprk adopted in August by the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. This resolution criticized in particular the dprk's failure to allow visits by human rights monitors and its failure to report in a timely manner to the UN Human Rights Committee on its implementation of the iccpr. dprk diplomats indicated that the dprk viewed its withdrawal as a "defence" to protect its "sovereignty" and "dignity", while stating that the dprk would "do its best" to "protect" human rights in accordance with the provisions of the iccpr. For over 10 years, the dprk had failed to report on its implementation of the iccpr to the UN Human Rights Committee, a body of independent experts monitoring the implementation of the iccpr by States parties. The dprk's statement made it the first country ever to attempt to withdraw from the iccpr – or from any other UN human rights treaty. In October the UN Human Rights Committee, which has authority to interpret iccpr provisions, stated that countries which had ratified the iccpr could not denounce (withdraw from) it. The Committee noted that the iccpr contained no provision regarding its termination and did not provide for denunciation or withdrawal. It added that the rights enshrined in the iccpr belonged to the people living in the territory of the state party and that the drafters of the iccpr "deliberately intended to exclude the possibility of denunciation" because the iccpr "did not have a temporary character typical of treaties where a right of denunciation was deemed to be admitted". By the end of the year, the dprk had not reacted to the comments of the UN Human Rights Committee. In January Amnesty International released a report, Democratic People's Republic of Korea: Public executions – converging testimonies, detailing reports that at least 23 people, including one woman, had been publicly executed between 1970 and 1992. Among the cases reported to Amnesty International were those of four men executed for "banditry" in Chongjin City in the 1970s; two brothers convicted of stealing rice from a train, who were executed in Hamhung City in the 1980s; and a woman convicted of embezzlement, who was executed in the Sama Dong district of Pyongyang, the capital, in 1988. The authorities had indicated in 1993 that one execution had taken place in 1992. However, in 1995 North Korean officials had told Amnesty International that only one or two executions had taken place since 1985. In its January report, the organization called on the North Korean authorities to formally abolish the death penalty and to make public a complete list of all death sentences and executions carried out since 1970. No response was received from the authorities on these issues.

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