Monday, February 17, 2014

North Korea: Crimes Against Humanity Committed by a Criminal Nation

A United Nations panel has accused North Korea of crimes against humanity, including systematic extermination, torture, rape, forced abortions and starvation.

A grim array of human rights abuses, driven by “policies established at the highest level of State,” have been and continue to be committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), according to a United Nations-mandated report released today, which also calls for urgent action to address the rights situation in the country, including referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In a 400-page set of linked reports and supporting documents, culled from first-hand testimony from victims and witnesses, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has documented in great detail the “unspeakable atrocities” committed in the country, says a press release from the Geneva-based body.

“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” the Commission – established by the Human Rights Council in March 2013 – says the report, which is unprecedented in scope.

It finds that, since 1950, the “State's violence has been externalized through State-sponsored abductions and enforced disappearances of people from other nations. These international enforced disappearances are unique in their intensity, scale and nature.”

With a one-year mandate, the Commission was tasked with investigating several alleged violations, including those concerning the right to food and those associated with prison camps; torture and inhuman treatment; arbitrary detention; discrimination; freedom of expression, movement and religion; the right to life; and enforced disappearances, including abductions of nationals to other countries.

Here are just some of the report's main findings.

Violations of freedom of thought, expression and religion
The commission finds that there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association.

The state operates an all-encompassing indoctrination machine that takes root from childhood to propagate an official personality cult and to manufacture absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un.

Virtually all social activities undertaken by citizens of all ages are controlled by the Workers' Party of Korea. The state is able to dictate the daily lives of citizens through the associations run and overseen by the party. Citizens are obliged to be members of these associations.
People are denied the right to have access to information from independent sources: state-controlled media are the only permitted source of information in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Discrimination
It is a rigidly stratified society with entrenched patterns of discrimination... Discrimination is rooted in the songbun system, which classifies people on the basis of state-assigned social class and birth, and also includes consideration of political opinions and religion.

Songbun intersects with gender-based discrimination, which is equally pervasive.

The songbun system used to be the most important factor in determining where individuals were allowed to live; what sort of accommodation they had; what occupations they were assigned to; whether they were effectively able to attend school, in particular university; how much food they received; and even whom they might marry.

This traditional discrimination under the songbun system was recently complicated by increasing marketisation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and by the influence of money, including foreign currency, on people's ability to have greater access to their economic, social and cultural rights.

Violations of the freedom of movement and residence
The systems of indoctrination and discrimination on the basis of social class are reinforced and safeguarded by a policy of isolating citizens from contact with each other and with the outside world, violating all aspects of the right to freedom of movement.
The state decides where citizens must live and work, violating their freedom of choice... This has created a socioeconomically and physically segregated society, where people considered politically loyal to the leadership can live and work in favourable locations, whereas families of persons who are considered politically suspect are relegated to marginalised areas.

The state imposes a virtually absolute ban on ordinary citizens travelling abroad, thereby violating their human right to leave the country.

Violations of the right to food and related aspects of the right to life
The state has used food as a means of control over the population. It has prioritised those whom the authorities believe to be crucial to maintaining the regime over those deemed expendable.

The state has practised discrimination with regard to access to and distribution of food based on the songbun system. In addition, it privileges certain parts of the country, such as Pyongyang, over others.

Even during the worst period of mass starvation, the state impeded the delivery of food aid by imposing conditions that were not based on humanitarian considerations.
While acknowledging the impact of factors beyond state control over the food situation, the commission finds that decisions, actions and omissions by the state and its leadership caused the death of at least hundreds of thousands of people and inflicted permanent physical and psychological injuries on those who survived.

While conditions have changed since the 1990s, hunger and malnutrition continue to be widespread. Deaths from starvation continue to be reported.

Arbitrary detention, torture, executions and prison camps
The police and security forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea systematically employ violence and punishments that amount to gross human rights violations in order to create a climate of fear that pre-empts any challenge to the current system of government and to the ideology underpinning it. The institutions and officials involved are not held accountable. Impunity reigns.

The use of torture is an established feature of the interrogation process in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, especially in cases involving political crimes.
Persons who are found to have engaged in major political crimes are "disappeared", without trial or judicial order, to political prison camps (kwanliso).

In the political prison camps of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the inmate population has been gradually eliminated through deliberate starvation, forced labour, executions, torture, rape and the denial of reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide. The commission estimates that hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have perished in these camps over the past five decades.

a matter of state policy, the authorities carry out executions, with or without trial, publicly or secretly, in response to political and other crimes that are often not among the most serious crimes.

Abductions and enforced disappearances from other countries
Since 1950, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has engaged in the systematic abduction, denial of repatriation and subsequent enforced disappearance of persons from other countries on a large scale and as a matter of state policy.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea used its land, naval and intelligence forces to conduct abductions and arrests.

Family members abroad and foreign states wishing to exercise their right to provide diplomatic protection have been consistently denied information necessary to establish the fate and whereabouts of the victims.
Family members of the disappeared have been subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. They have been denied the right to effective remedies for human rights violations, including the right to the truth. Parents and disappeared children have been denied the right to family life.

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