Widespread and horrifying human rights abuses are taking place inside the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, according to a new report from the United Nations Office of the High Commission on Human Rights. The report includes detailed evidence of torture, forced disappearances and abductions, violations of the right to food, and shines a light “in a very dark corner of the world where human rights are not properly respected,” said Michael Kirby, chairman of the independent Commission of Inquiry on the DPRK.
The commission is now calling on the international community to act and says that those responsible for the “unspeakable atrocities” against North Koreans, must face justice. Pyongyang did not cooperate with the U.N., and supreme leader Kim Jong-un did not respond to an advanced copy of the report that was sent to him. The commission told him that they would find evidence of crimes against humanity in the report.
“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” the report says.
Some of the major findings from the report confirm what many human rights watchers already knew or believed existed inside North Korea. There is an almost non-existent right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and the rights of freedom of opinion, expression, information and association are systematically oppressed.
The country also operates an “all-encompassing indoctrination machine” that begins in childhood and urges absolute obedience to the supreme leader. Propaganda is used to incite nationalistic hatred towards the State’s official enemies, including Japan, the United States, and the Republic of Korea.
Inside the prison camps — the existence of which North Korea denies but which satellite image show do exist — inmates have suffered at the hands of deliberate starvation, forced abortion and infanticide, torture, rape and the denial of reproductive rights. The reports likens North Korea’s political prison camps to the camps of twentieth century totalitarian states.
North Korean leadership has and continues to use food as a means to control society, which is rife with the physical and psychological side-effects of starvation. Conditions have improved since the 1990s, but the U.N. found the that the country’s leadership caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of North Koreans, as well as the lasting damage to survivors.
The report, which took a year to compile, includes testimony from defectors, who spoke at a number of public hearings held in London, Seoul, Washington and Tokyo last year. Stories from those hearings included a woman forced to drown her own baby, and families tortured for viewing a foreign TV show. At least 80 witnesses spoke at the hearings, and the commission received testimony from another 240 people who were unwilling to speak in public. North Korea referred to those taking part in the testimony as “human scum.”
Kirby hopes and expects the report will “galvanize action” by the international community. “At the end of the Second World War, so many people said, “If only we had known. if only we had know the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces. There will be no excusing a failure of action because we didn’t know.
The findings of the full report will be presented to the UN’s Human Rights Council on March 17, 2014.