This week saw an atrocious, and some may say inevitable, revelation regarding North Korea, brought to light by the United Nations report on Human rights abuses in Korea. The report disclosed stories of forced abortions for the purpose of keeping the population pure, prison camps and torture; leading many to make comparisons between Kim Jong un’s regime and Hitler’s. Despite now knowing the extent of the human right abuses in North Korea little action is being taken, likely because of the nuclear risk the state poses, as well as the protection that China bestows upon the state.
The UN report, which collated evidence for almost a year, has highlighted the regime in North Korea and the punishing lives that its people live. Evidence of torture and indoctrination of the youth have shown a totalitarian state with complete control over its population. The extract below taken from the report, shows just how the state dominates every aspect of its citizens lives.
“Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been, and are
being, committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and
officials. In many instances, the violations of human rights found by the Commission
constitute crimes against humanity. These are not mere excesses of the state. They are
essential components of a political system that has moved far from the ideals on which
it claims to be founded. The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state
that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world. Political scientists of the
20th century characterized this type of political organization as a totalitarian state: A
state that does not content itself with ensuring the authoritarian rule of a small group
of people, but seeks to dominate every aspect of its citizens’ lives and terrorizes them
(As taken from page 365 of the full report)
North Korea exerts control over all aspects of its people’s lives, as highlighted by the management of the food supplies; the state able to prioritise food to the citizens it deems essential to the running of the state and ignores others it deems as expendable. This is a gross violation of what a state is meant to provide, basics such as food and shelter are being withheld causing unthinkable suffering, all while Kim Jong un lives a life of luxury. Famine caused by state mismanagement, crop conditions and a lack of essential aid led to estimates of 200,000 to 3 million deaths caused by starvation and malnutrition. This is in part due to the states lack of care for anyone within the lower levels of their Songbun system as they can sacrifice anyone not necessary.
The Songbun system was created to note who in society is loyal to the party, who is hostile and who is wavering. Each of these classes is divided into 51 subcategories that are based on things such as hereditary factors such as family being involved in wars that supported the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or if a certain family member has defected to the South. These divisions play a part in creating the class system: citizens at the top are given certain privileges, for example the opportunity to live in the capital, Pyongyang, access to health care, and as discussed, food. In contrast, and at the opposite end of the scale, having a low rating in the Songbun system can mean no medicine, food or education as you are deemed a risk to the state and thus are expendable. A person with a low status can be used by the state for whatever they deem, so a person is discriminated against for a label given to them by the state. In addition, if you are deemed hostile to the party there is also the risk of the many camps that participate in torture and can mean a dissident becomes a missing person. This system allows the state control over its people and minimises rebellion; people want to be recognised as being loyal to achieve a high Songbun and reap the benefits and if you do not aspire to this you dread the alternative.
The United Nations report aims to highlight all of these issues and provide solutions to the problems it raises. Most importantly, it intends to hold North Korea to account for all of the crimes against humanity it has committed. The report is a massive critique of the system, with suggestions to create accountability and reform much of the society. However, how much it can achieve is limited; the government’s control over the media means it is unlikely that anything will be known of the report within North Korea and even less likely that any form of inner revolution will occur because of it. The nuclear threat that the country poses to the rest of the world means any form of international military action is kept at bay. The system is severely entrenched and there is little prospect for change with internal discontent all but vanished caused by the DPRK’s indoctrination and state control over resources and people. Further, there is little hope of the attitude from China changing as, being North Korea’s ally, they have often defended their right to govern as they please. Because of this, they have been complicit in some of Korea’s crimes, for example deporting citizens back to Korea where they will no doubted face persecution by being labelled as a threat to the state since they have escaped the regime. The UN report has highlighted this complicity and has suggested that this attitude to refugees needs to be changed and the international precedent for refugees must be followed, but this has not been well received by China.
China refused to accept this report, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stating: “Of course we cannot accept this unreasonable criticism…We believe that politicizing human rights issues is not conducive towards improving a country’s human rights…We believe that taking human rights issues to the International Criminal Court is not helpful to improving a country’s human rights situation.” This reaction from China clearly shows that little will happen as a result of the report, because despite the harrowing accounts the two very powerful protectors of Korea, nuclear weapons and China, are clearly still active and there is little the people can do to oppose their regime’s strength.
The report from the U.N. does little in the grand scheme of things, as Korea has been considered this corrupt state for all of its existence. As my colleague Russ Fay points out in his article ‘On a Scale of 1 to ‘The Shining’, How Crazy is Kim Jong-un?’, Korea has lacked the ability to change for years and this is all down to one family’s ability to influence its people and the outside world. The only possible influencing factor could be Korea’s only ally, China, but they show a lack of will to upset regional stability by denouncing North Korea. So, for now it seems the Nazi equivalent in North Korea will continue and inevitably worsen whilst the rest of the world looks on in disbelief and disgust unable to play its hand.
For more information about the regime in north Korea, why not try:
Russ Fay’s take on the cult nature of the regime:
Listed documents from the UN that have previously attempted diplomacy within North Korea:
China’s rejection of the report: