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Seoul lifts lid on once-classified N. Korea human rights reports

Based on testimonies from over 500 defectors, report documents shocking human rights abuses in NK

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : March 30, 2023 - 17:26

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A North Korea flag flutters next to concertina wire at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2017. (File Photo - Reuters) A North Korea flag flutters next to concertina wire at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2017. (File Photo - Reuters)

The South Korean government will release a comprehensive report on human rights abuses and violations committed in North Korea, ranging from human experimentation to the public execution of pregnant women, for the first time on Friday.

Since the enactment of the North Korean Human Rights Acts in 2016, the Korean government has published classified state reports on the human rights situation in North Korea. The reports were not open to public for years during the liberal-leaning Moon Jae-in administration which called for the need to protect the identities of the North Korean defectors who testified.

The release of the previously-classified reports appears to fall in line with the Yoon government’s continuing efforts to publicly address human rights in North Korea, including the resumption of co-sponsoring for related UN resolutions.

The 445-page extensive report details egregious human rights violations in North Korea, including the right to life and liberty, as well as freedom from slavery, torture and other inhumane treatment. The report was written based on around 1,600 human rights violation cases testified by 508 North Korean defectors who fled their country between 2017 and 2022.

According to the report, the Kim Jong-un regime has extensively imposed the death penalty for offenses that do not qualify as the most serious crimes in North Korea, including narcotics crimes, the distribution of South Korean entertainment, and participating in religious and superstitious beliefs.

The death penalty was often carried out by firing squad, with most death row convicts not being given a chance to appeal.

“The right to life of North Korean citizens has been greatly threatened. Cases proving arbitrary deprivation of life by state power have been collected,” read the 2023 Report on North Korean Human Rights.

For instance, a man in Ryanggang Province was publicly executed by firing squad for distributing video footage originating from South Korea to several residents after importing the footage from China in 2020.

North Koreans who were secretly selling South Korean products such as high heels and cosmetics in the back alley of a market in the city of Pyongsong in South Pyongan Province were arrested and executed by shooting in 2018.

Minors under the age of 18 and even pregnant women have been executed, according to the testimony of North Korean defectors.

One testimony stated that a six-month pregnant woman was executed because she was seen pointing at a portrait of the late Kim Il-sung with her finger while dancing in her home in a widely circulated video.

Six teenagers aged 16 and 17 were executed by shooting on charges of watching video footage originating from South Korea and smoking opium at a stadium in the city of Wonsan, Kangwon Province.

The report also stated that the Kim Jong-un regime has conducted prohibited experiments on people with physical or intellectual disabilities as well as people suffering from psychiatric conditions including schizophrenia who are unable to provide valid consent for unethical human experiments.

North Korean officials at the Ministry of Social Security also allegedly blackmailed families into letting their family members become human test subjects. If not, they threatened to send the families to prison camps, according to testimonies from defectors. The human subjects were secretly fed sleeping pills by officials and forcibly taken to a facility called Hospital 83 for various experiments.

The report also states that the Kim Jong-un regime deprived disabled people, particularly those with dwarfism, of physical liberty by sterilizing them against their will.

In 2015, nurses at a hospital were instructed to create a “list of dwarfs” to prevent people with dwarfism from giving birth. A woman suffering from dwarfism was forced to undergo a hysterectomy, which is a surgical procedure to remove her womb, in 2017.

South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said the publication of the report is the outcome of the government’s resolve to make further efforts to "substantially improve North Korea’s human rights situation” in the soon-to-be released report’s preface.

Kwon underscored that the fundamental goal of issuing the report is to accurately understand the human rights situation in North Korea and find practical solutions to address abuses and violations of human rights.

“I hope that the report plays a significant role in bringing about meaningful changes in attitudes and responsible actions by the North Korean authorities,” he stated.