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Decade after UN report, NK human rights 'worst in world': Turner

1 defector claims that NK people have begun embracing concept of 'human rights violations'

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Feb. 19, 2024 - 15:29

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North Koreans pay respect to the statues of former late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang on Feb. 16 in this photo carried by the Korean Central News Agency the next day. The event came on the occasion of the 82nd birthday of the North's former late leader Kim Jong-il. (Yonhap) North Koreans pay respect to the statues of former late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang on Feb. 16 in this photo carried by the Korean Central News Agency the next day. The event came on the occasion of the 82nd birthday of the North's former late leader Kim Jong-il. (Yonhap)

The human rights situation in North Korea has remained the worst in the world, even 10 years after the UN released its first report unveiling systematic human rights abuses and violations by the North Korean regime, the US special envoy for North Korean human rights said Monday.

One defector, however, asserted that North Korean people have started to adopt the notion of "human rights violations," attributing this shift to the international community's concerted efforts to shed light on and address human rights issues in North Korea.

"The human rights crisis and the suffering of the North Korean people has gone on too long," Ambassador Julie Turner said in a video message delivered at the "Seoul Freedom Forum for North Korean Human Rights."

Turner emphasized that there has been minimal progress since the release of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea's comprehensive 400-page report on February 17, 2014.

The UN report, for the first time, meticulously documented the brutality of the North Korean regime and concluded that the regime is committing "systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations."

The report also said that the fact that North Korea "has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community."

"These words continue to ring true. The human rights situation in the DPRK remains among the worst in the world. COVID has only allowed the regime to further its control and repression," Turner told participants, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Turner emphasized the importance of member States following through on the COI's recommendations, delivering a direct message to China regarding the imperative to refrain from forcibly repatriating North Korean defectors to their home country.

"And to that end, the US continues to call upon all member states including the People's Republic of China to abide by the principle of non-refoulement," Turner said.

Turner also said, "Now is the time to double down on increasing the free flow of independent information into the DPRK to help equip the citizenry with the information that they still crave."

The Inaugural 2024 Seoul Freedom Forum for North Korean Human Rights is held on Monday in Seoul to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the release of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in North Korea. (Yonhap) The Inaugural 2024 Seoul Freedom Forum for North Korean Human Rights is held on Monday in Seoul to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the release of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in North Korea. (Yonhap)

North Korean defector Kang Chol-hwan, a former inmate of the notorious Yodok concentration camp, said the "North Korean regime is far from improving human rights. Instead, the human rights situation has worsened" even though a decade has passed since the release of the COI report.

Under the Kim Jong-un regime, the clampdown on people has intensified with the establishment of laws such as the Law on the Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture, the Youth Education Guarantee Act, and the Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act

In North Korea, individuals can be deemed political criminals for merely watching films or listening to music that the rest of the world is allowed to enjoy, Kang said.

Another North Korean defector, Hwang Ji-sung, who is a broker rescuing North Korean defectors, highlighted the heightened challenges of defection under the Kim Jong-un regime.

Hwang claimed that the brokerage fee for defection has skyrocketed to 100,000 yuan ($13,800), from 15,000 yuan in 2010.

The increase in fees was attributed to heightened control measures implemented by the Kim Jong-un regime and the suppression of North Korean escapees by the Chinese authorities.

Furthermore, the availability of escape routes has dwindled due to China's implementation of AI technology and stringent control measures, Hwang said.

However, North Korean defector and human rights activist Kim Il-hyeok noted that changes were underway in North Korea and its people, attributing them to the ongoing efforts of the international community to publicize and address human rights issues.

"In fact, it is part of this change that North Korean residents, who were previously unaware of the concept of 'human rights,' are now using the term 'human rights violations,'" Kim, who testified human rights situation in North Korea at the UN Security Council in August last year, said in English.

Kim highlighted that testimonies from defectors who arrived in South Korea shortly before the pandemic indicate the "term 'human rights violations' is being used among residents when unfair treatment occurs."

Emphasizing the importance of the international community's pressure on addressing human rights issues, Kim suggested that such efforts "can lead to better outcomes for resolving North Korea's human rights issues."