Seoul Publishes Report on N.Korean Human Rights Abuses

  • By Kim Eun-joong, Kim Myong-song

    March 31, 2023 13:30

    The government on Thursday published a devastating report on North Korea's human rights abuses compiled from testimonies of about 500 North Korean defectors. 
    Similar reports had been compiled annually since 2018, but they were kept under wraps as the previous government sought in vain to pacify the North Korean regime. 
    The latest 450-page report details shocking abuses in political prison camps, public executions of teenagers and pregnant women, torture, medical experiments on living bodies and forced labor.
    It was compiled based on interviews the Center for North Korean Human Rights Records has conducted since 2017 with 2,075 defectors at resettlement facility Hanawon.
    One defector recalled that six teenagers aged 16-17 were executed by firing squad for watching South Korean videos and using drugs in Wonsan in 2015. In 2017, a woman in the sixth month of pregnancy was publicly executed on charges of pointing a finger at the portrait of regime founder Kim Il-sung while dancing in a room of her house in a video that had gone viral.
    In 2014, when a woman gave birth in a detention facility after she was forcibly repatriated from China, a guard killed the baby because it had "Chinese blood."
    Female detainees were stripped naked for intimate examinations including their vaginas, according to testimony. In some cases, male guards tried to examine female detainees' uterus. Sexual abuse is frequent in these circumstances. 
    People look at posters at an exhibition about North Korean human rights abuses at the National Assembly in Seoul on Thursday. /Newsis
    One trend is that paranoia about access to outside information has been on the rise. Anybody carrying a mobile phone can be stopped by police patrols in the street. In 2020, a man in Ryanggang Province was publicly executed for circulating a South Korean video he had brought in from China. Others were arrested and publicly executed for selling South Korean-made high heels and cosmetics. 
    Some people were brutally punished or executed for engaging in religious or superstitious practices. In 2019, an underground Christian church was rounded up in Pyongyang and five of its members were publicly executed, seven were sent to a political prison camp, 30 were sent to a labor camp, and about 50 were kicked out of Pyongyang into internal exile with their families.
    The report also discusses executions and forced labor in political prison camps. South Korean prisoners of war, South Korean abductees, and families separated from their South Korean relatives suffered serious right abuses as they were watched and discriminated against.
    If detainees died, gulags do not notify their family, and relatives often only find out when they go to visit them in the camp. The victims' bodies are not handed over to their families but buried or cremated nearby.
    The reports have been compiled under a law compelling the government to pay more attention to North Korean human rights from 2016. But in a bizarre compromise aimed at softening up the regime, the former Moon Jae-in administration never made them public, provoking severe criticism from the international community.
    The Yoon Suk-yeol administration has now decided to publish them so that the dire reality in North Korea is widely revealed. Last year it also co-sponsored the UN General Assembly's annual resolution on North Korean human rights for the first time in five years.  
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