The Worst of the Worst 2010 - North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)

Population: 22,665,000
Capital: Pyongyang

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 7
Status: Not Free ↓

Ten-Year Ratings Timeline for Year under Review
(Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status)
Year Under Review2000200120022003200420052006200720082009

Trend Arrow: North Korea received a downward trend arrow due to the government's tightening of control over a burgeoning private market and its repression of citizens' economic freedom.

2009 Key Developments: The North Korean government carried out its second test of a nuclear weapon in May 2009, triggering new international sanctions. However, it indicated its openness to further disarmament negotiations later in the year, after former U.S. president Bill Clinton visited in August to secure the release of two American journalists. The Clinton trip and other official visits also dispelled speculation that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was near death. In late November, the government announced a major revaluation of its currency and restricted the amount of old notes that individuals could exchange, effectively wiping out many citizens' cash savings. The move, part of a bid to crack down on private trading and bolster state controls on the economy, reportedly led to small protests and other disturbances by year's end.

Political Rights: North Korea is not an electoral democracy. Kim Jong-il has led the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) since the 1994 death of his father, founding leader Kim Il-sung. North Korea's parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), is a rubber-stamp institution that meets irregularly for only a few days each year. The latest SPA elections were held in March 2009, and in April the new chamber reelected Kim Jong-il as defense commission chairman. All candidates for office, who run unopposed, are preselected by the ruling Korean Workers' Party and two subordinate minor parties. In March, the SPA revised the constitution to reinforce Kim Jong-il's status as the undisputed "supreme leader," and to stipulate for the first time that the country respects and protects human rights. The move was interpreted as a response to international pressure, although protection of human rights remains nonexistent in practice. Corruption is believed to be endemic at all levels of the state and economy.

Civil Liberties: The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, but in practice these rights are nonexistent. All media outlets are run by the state. Televisions and radios are permanently fixed to state channels, and all publications are subject to strict supervision and censorship. Internet access is restricted to a few thousand people with state approval, and foreign websites are blocked. Although freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution, it does not exist in practice. Nearly all forms of private communication are monitored by a huge network of informers. Freedom of assembly is not recognized, and there are no known associations or organizations other than those created by the state. Strikes, collective bargaining, and other organized-labor activities are illegal. Nevertheless, recent state efforts to crack down on the black market have reportedly sparked scattered protests. North Korea does not have an independent judiciary. The UN General Assembly has recognized and condemned severe DPRK human rights violations including the use of torture, public executions, extrajudicial and arbitrary detention, and forced labor; the absence of due process and the rule of law; death sentences for political offenses; and a large number of prison camps. The regime subjects thousands of political prisoners to brutal conditions, and collective or familial punishment for suspected dissent by an individual is a common practice. Freedom of movement does not exist, and forced internal resettlement is routine. There have been widespread reports of trafficked women and girls among the tens of thousands of North Koreans who have recently crossed into China.

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