Opinions on human rights ‘significantly different’ among South Koreans and NK defectors: study

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Sept 25, 2018 - 18:03
  • Updated : Sept 25, 2018 - 18:23

Almost 75 percent of North Korean defectors currently living in South Korea were unaware of the existence of the term “human rights” while living in the communist state, and they have significantly different views from South Koreans when it comes to a number of social issues such as conscientious objection, a study showed.

“Our study suggests that many North Korean defectors are either unaware of their rights or reluctant to exercise them, especially when the violation of one’s rights is a result of social hierarchy, or discrimination against one’s social class or political background (as they are used to having their ascribed status back in the North),” read the report, compiled by the National Human Rights Commission of South Korea.

The study showed that 82.1 percent of North Korean defectors think conscientious objectors -- those who refuse mandatory military service on grounds of conscience or religious beliefs -- should continue to be criminally prosecuted in South Korea, while only 52.1 percent of South Koreans thought the same way. 

Pyongyang residents walk past an image of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung at a teachers` training college in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Sept. 7. (Yonhap)

At the same time, only 50.6 percent of North Korean defectors said temporary workers should be paid as much as the full-time workers, if they do the same amount of work, while 77.8 percent of South Koreans shared the same view.

Also, almost 80 percent of North Korean defectors said that faces of all criminals in the country should be revealed to the public, while 64.5 percent of South Koreans said such a practice was necessary.

Only about 50.2 percent of the defectors said the South Korean government needs to do more to provide better welfare programs for its citizens, while 70.5 percent of South Koreans thought the country’s existing welfare programs were not enough. 

“North Korea currently does not recognize pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness and rights to property as fundamental rights of its citizens, calling them as a means for the bourgeois’ way of oppressing others,” read the report.

“Being unaware of one’s basic rights can become a hurdle when a defector starts a new life in South Korea. There needs to be more mandatory educational programs on human rights for all North Korean defectors during their early days in the South.”

The report also showed that 82.1 percent of the defectors had never received any education on human rights before leaving North Korea. When asked about human rights abuses they had witnessed or experienced while living in the North, 85.6 percent said they never had any privacy.

At the same time, 64 percent said they had witnessed public executions, while 35 percent said they had been discriminated against because of ascribed social, economic and political status, which they automatically inherit from their parents when they are born. In the North, one’s ascribed status is believed to affect one’s access to educational and employment opportunities and even to basic necessities such as adequate food. 

A student stands under the portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il during a lecture at a teachers` training college in Pyongyang. (Yonhap)

Almost 67 percent said they had either witnessed or experienced extreme poverty or deaths caused by starvation, while 77.1 percent said they had experienced sexism while living in the North.

Many North Korean female defectors who fled the communist regime to escape poverty are believed to have been trafficked by Chinese brokers for forced marriages to Chinese nationals, the report added. 

Among the North Korean defectors who have experienced discrimination while living in South Korea, 45.4 percent said they were discriminated against by South Koreans because they were from the North, while 25.7 percent said it was because they had a low education background. Almost 25 percent said they had to endure unfair treatment because they were temporary workers.

The report highlighted that all North Korean defectors in South Korea are required to receive 406 hours of education on South Korea and its culture, politics, health care system, and economy, among other topics, for 12 weeks, but only two hours are spent on human rights.

“Considering many North Korean defectors experienced human rights violations while living in the North, in China and other countries, and even in South Korea, it would be reasonable to make sure they receive a sufficient amount of information on what their basic rights are,” the report read.

“There needs to be a textbook that solely focuses on human rights.”