It’s a well-known fact that North Korea has committed human rights atrocities under Kim Jong Un. Human rights groups called on Donald Trump to bring up Kim’s crimes against humanity when he met with the brutal North Korean dictator in Singapore. However, Trump did little to call attention to Kim’s human rights violations. And now, North Korea has rejected allegations by the top U.N. human rights official that human rights abuses persist.
Here’s what you need to know about those allegations and how North Korea has responded.
1. A U.N. official said that North Korea’s human rights violations haven’t changed
According to Reuters, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that in remotely monitoring North Korea, his office found “little change in the country’s longstanding, grave, and systematic violations of human rights.” He told the Human Rights Council, “The people of the DPRK risk their lives and their dignity for the exercise of their fundamental human rights, including seeking to leave the country and communicating with individuals abroad.”
2. Zeid recommended making human rights a part of peace talks
Zeid went on to call on North Korea to engage with his office and with the U.N. human rights investigator on the country, whose mandate Pyongyang has yet to recognize. He also recommended making human rights a part of peace talks with North Korea, noting that “making human rights part of peace talks contributes to meaningful and sustainable peace in the long-term.” Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. rights investigator for North Korea, has repeatedly called on the U.S. and other nations to put human rights on the agenda of their talks with North Korea. Ojea Quintana says that that would make progress toward denuclearization “sustainable.”
3. Donald Trump doesn’t seem particularly likely to do so
According to Reuters, Ojea Quintana also voiced dismay that human rights issues hadn’t featured more prominently during the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. “Apart from Trump saying that he had raised the return of soldiers’remains and the fate of Japanese abductees, there was no sign that the need for North Korea to improve its rights record would become part of the negotiations, he said,” according to Reuters. “Even more worrying were Trump’s remarks that he was inclined to ‘not focus on the past, but only on the future’, he added.”
4. North Korea dismissed the U.N.’s claims as ‘fabricated’
Choe Myong Nam, a deputy permanent representative for North Korea in Geneva, told the U.N. Council that Zeid’s remarks were based on “unconfirmed information fabricated and spread by forces hostile to DPRK.” Choe said that North Korea rejects ” the politicisation, selectivity, and double standards as well as groundless allegations and prejudices.” Choe also denounced the U.N.’s “highly politicized anti-DPRK resolutions.”
5. But Kim’s human rights abuses are real
Reuters notes that in a landmark 2014 report, U.N. investigators estimated that Kim Jong Un’s regime holds 80,000 to 120,000 in prison camps. The report documented torture and other human rights violations. And the report also said that those violations could amount to crimes against humanity. The New York Times notes that according to the report, Kim’s crimes “entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”
6. North Korea operates a network of prison gulags
In North Korea, many people live in fear. That fear is reinforced by what the Times characterizes as a “ruthless police state.” The Kim regime arrests people accused of political crimes, and sentences them to prison camps without trials. Prisoners’ families don’t know where they are. And the prisoners themselves face starvation, forced labor, torture, and rape. The government denies their reproductive rights through forced abortions and infanticide. Public executions are common, and hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have died in the camps over the past 50 years. Additionally, North Korea operates a separate network of prisons for those accused of regular crimes, with both short-term and long-term sentences.
7. Kim has executed his enemies — and members of his family
Kim Jong Un assumed power in 2011, taking over from his father. Since then, he has consolidated his power through executions, according to The New York Times. In his first six years at the head of North Korea’s government, he ordered the executions of at least 340 people. He has executed officials for showing “disrespectful posture” or falling asleep in a meeting. Kim has also executed an uncle and an estranged brother, the latter whom he killed with a chemical warfare agent.
8. North Korea indoctrinates its citizens
Another notable human rights violation that happens under Kim involves the indoctrination of North Korean citizens. According to the U.N. report, the regime “operates an all-encompassing indoctrination machine that takes root from childhood to propagate an official personality cult and to manufacture absolute obedience.” Independent thought is discouraged, and propaganda glorifying the state — and inciting hatred toward official enemies like Japan and the United States — is ubiquitous. Christians are prohibited from practicing their religion, which the regime views as a threat.
9. The regime uses ‘deliberate starvation’
The regime also uses a tactic called “deliberate starvation,” according to the Times. 2 to 3 million North Koreans died in a famine in the 1990s. At the time, North Korea used food to enforce political loyalty. It prioritized the distribution of food according to who was most useful to the nation’s political system. And recently, the regime has culled the population of its prison camps by starving prisoners. Hunger and malnutrition persist among the general population. And people still die of starvation under Kim Jong Un.
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