Seoul-based Open North Korea unveiled a report based on findings from 18 defectors who had been mobilized to work at construction sites, factories and other locations run by the regime or military.
Under a system called “dolgyeokdae,” or “storm troopers,” authorities recruit orphans and other underprivileged youngsters in particular and force them to labor up to midnight, while offering monthly wages the equivalent of a few bowls of noodles, it said.
“My goal was to enter the Workers’ Party because I thought people like me, with a poor background, had to battle my way, so I worked really hard. But when I told a party executive about that, he said in a sorry voice it would be unlikely given my parents’ records. So I escaped, frustrated.”
The report said the members of the groups, many of whom are children, are required to follow military-like disciplines for about 10 years. In addition to harsh labor, beatings and hunger prevail there, as well as injuries and deaths due to the lack of proper equipment.
The stripped salaries are estimated to total 7.5 trillion North Korean won, about $975 million annually.
The report came amid growing calls for countries around the world to no longer accept North Korean workers who are also known to live in harsh conditions and who are used as a cash cow to fund leader Kim Jong-un’s nuclear and missile programs.
In its watershed survey released in February 2014, the UN Commission of inquiry pointed to slavery-like practices at some prison camps.
“What happens to the overseas workers happens because it also happens inside North Korea. The suffering people in North Korea also deserve the attention we pay to the overseas workers,” said Kwon Eun-kyoung, director of the civic group.
“We plan to translate the paper into English and submit it to the UN special rapporteur and other UN mechanisms, as well as UN representatives of especially Security Council member countries.”
Ahn Youn-kyo, head of the UN’s human rights office in Seoul, said: “We will look into the report in detail later on, but in the dolgyeokdae system there are sources of rights violations given the discrimination and violence that occur there.”
“North Korea, too, as a UN member and signatory of four related conventions including on children’s rights and discrimination against women, is obliged to abide by them and protect its people.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)