WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) ― The U.S. on Friday denounced North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for ruling the reclusive communist state under an absolute dictatorship replete with extrajudicial killings and prison camps.
North Korea is “a dictatorship under the absolute rule of Kim Jong-il, general secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party and chairman of the National Defense Commission,” the State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report said.
In releasing the annual report, Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, depicted the human rights situation in North Korea as “grim, grim, grim.”
“It is a highly controlled closed society, where any notion of dissent, any notion of public debate, any notion of free press or free assembly is simply not tolerated,” Posner told reporters. “We are really dealing there with a government that has really tried to shut itself off from the world and in large measure succeeded.”
He said the U.S. has “not made much progress” in the North’s human right record due to lack of diplomatic ties and information.
North Korea denies people “the right to change their government,” the report said. “The government subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives. There continued to be reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, arrests of political prisoners, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and torture.”
This picture drawn by a North Korean defector depicts North Korean boys begging to soldiers. (Yonhap News)
North Korea is said to have camps accommodating up to 200,000 political prisoners.
Speaking at a U.N. Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Switzerland, last month, Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, lamented widespread human rights violations in the North.
U.S. President Barack Obama appointed King in 2009, replacing Jay Lefkowitz. Under the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, then-President George W. Bush appointed Lefkowitz in 2005 and provided financial aid to help improve North Korea’s human rights and accept North Korean defectors into the U.S.
In 2008, Congress approved the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act for another four years, calling for “activities to support human rights and democracy and freedom of information in North Korea,” as well as “assistance to North Koreans who are outside North Korea,” and 12-hour daily broadcasting to North Korea.
Neither King nor Lefkowitz has been allowed access to North Korea, although they frequently traveled to South Korea, China and other countries to write reports on North Korea’s human rights situation. The same applies to Marzuki Darusman, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on North Korean human rights, and his predecessor, Vitit Muntarbhorn.
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September, Obama denounced “a North Korean regime that enslaves its own people.”
Obama also said at that time that improvements in human rights should be preconditions for North Korea and other “tyrannical” governments to be friends with the U.S.
The report said North Koreans “were denied freedom of speech, press, assembly and association,” adding, “The government attempted to control all information. The government restricted freedom of religion, citizens’ movement and worker rights.”
In November, the U.S. listed North Korea as among the eight worst offenders of religious freedom, together with China, Iran, Eritrea, Myanmar, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, saying the reclusive communist state severely restricts religious activity except for that supervised by the government.
Many experts believe North Korea is safe from the sweeping popular uprisings in the Middle East that toppled decades-old authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia in recent weeks, citing effective information control, lack of a civil society and the support by the ruling elite and the military of the Kim Jong-il regime for fear of losing privileges.
King last month deplored the lack of free flow of information in the North, saying, “An active and vibrant civil society is one of the essential elements of a free nation.”
The report also touched on “severe punishment of some repatriated refugees and their family members,” adding, “There were widespread reports of trafficking in women and girls among refugees and workers crossing the border into China.”
Hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees are believed to be hiding in China.
Most North Korean refugees, fleeing poverty, aim for South Korea via neighboring China.
South Korea has received more than 20,000 North Korean defectors since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War. The U.S. has taken in about 100 North Korean refugees since the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004.
China has come under criticism for repatriating North Korean refugees under a secret agreement with North Korea, categorizing defectors as economic immigrants rather than refugees, despite the danger of them being persecuted back home.