Report on Human Rights in North Korea

As rising numbers of North Korean defectors escape the regime, the world is learning more and more about the human rights situation in the state.

Based on detailed interviews with 103 defectors, the Report on Human Rights in North Korea, 2014 assesses the current situation, including problems in human rights law, discrimination against socially vulnerable groups, human rights in prison camps, the reality of human rights for North Korean defectors abroad and the problems arising from relations between North and South Korea.

Written by the Korean Bar Association, with the KBA Human Rights Foundation, and translated and edited by the International Bar Association, this report will play an important role in informing the international community about the human rights situation in North Korea.

Access each chapter separately or download the full report:

Download report > See chapter synopses and download chapters > Related items >

 

Contents

Click on a chapter title for more information

  • Foreword messages from We Chul-Whan, President, Korean Bar Association; Lee Sae-joong, President, KBA Human Rights Foundation (2014)
  • Introduction to authors who contributed to the report
  • Glossary of acronyms used in report

Download Foreword, introduction to authors and glossary of acronyms

An introduction to the report, including an overview of the current human rights situation in North Korea. This chapter includes the main problems in human rights law, discrimination against socially vulnerable groups, human rights in prison camps, the reality of human rights of North Korean defectors abroad and the problems arising from relations between North and South Korea.

Download Chapter One: Introduction

This chapter discusses the theory behind human rights in North Korea as a socialist state, based on Karl Marx’s ideologies. It looks at the North Korean government’s perception of human rights, and also analyses the 2014 survey results of 103 defectors.

Download Chapter Two: North Korea's Human Rights Policy

An overview of the application of human rights laws in North Korea. This chapter includes discussion of laws related to social control, including the Criminal Code (and its amendments), the Administrative Penalty Act and the Housing Act, and asks whether legislative human rights laws are actually being enforced. It also reviews the trial process in North Korea, including investigation and pre-trial procedures, and the way North Koreans receive punishment and reform for crimes committed.

Download Chapter Three: North Korean Human Rights Laws and their Application

Download Chapter Four: Types of Human Rights Violations in North Korea

Chapter Four analyses the results of the defector survey in more depth with regard to different types of human rights violations in North Korea.

  • 4.1: This section looks at the severe violations of the right to life, including public executions, capital punishment, and gives an overview of the treatment in prison camps.
  • 4.2: Though North Korea did not join the UN Convention against Torture, as a member of the UN, it has a obligation to protect its citizens from torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment. This section investigates human rights violations, including the treatment received by political prisoners.
  • 4.3: An overview of the status of religion in North Korea, and cases of religious suppression.
  • 4.4: This section discusses the reality of arbitrary detention, including an overview of the investigation and pre-trial stages.
  • 4.5: A look at the level of freedom of opinion and expression that North Korean citizens have, including the limits and punishments for political offenders, anti-state expression and the sale of pornography
  • 4.6: This section focuses on the involuntary disappearances of North Koreans, and the possible reasons behind them.
  • 4.7: A discussion of the rights given to socially vulnerable groups, including women, the elderly, children and people with disabilities.
  • 4.8: This section discusses the concept of the right to food, and explores the current situation with regard to the violations of this human right in North Korea. It also looks at the possible solutions to the lack of food in North Korea, including the establishment of a monitoring system when receiving external support.
  • 4.9: An analysis of the human rights violations in prison camps, both ordinary and political. This section also takes a look at the standards of living conditions and facilities. 
  • 4.10: This section reviews the situation regarding exploitation of labour, both within North Korea and abroad. It also looks at violations of international labour standards and other labour laws.
  • 4.11: The restrictions on freedom of movement in North Korea extends not just to travel abroad, but also internal movement with the country. This section examines these restrictions, as well as the punishments imposed on those who travel abroad and the restrictions of returning to North Korea.
  • 4.12 This section considers the reasons why North Koreans defect, and looks at the patterns and causes of defection, including age, gender and standard of living. It also examines the violations of human rights in the course of fleeing North Korea, via China and other countries. The human rights of those who are forcibly repatriated to North Korea is also discussed.
  • 4.13: The final section discusses the problems related to relations between North and South Korea. This section includes discussion of prisoners of war, abductees separated families and those who move from Japan to North Korea.

Download Chapter Four: Types of Human Rights Violations in North Korea

Conclusions drawn from the report, and principles and guidelines for improving human rights in North Korea.

Download Chapter Five: Conclusion

 

Related items

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Film

Articles and news

Film

UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry into North Korea Chair Michael Kirby introduces the English translation of the report, 2015 (5 min - video will begin and end at appropriate points)

 

 

Human rights in North Korea - IBA Annual Conference showcase session, 2014 - featuring UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry into North Korea Chair Michael Kirby, and others 

Human rights violations in North Korea have long been a source of concern to the international community. In 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council established a Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights violations in North Korea. The COI was chaired by Hon Michael Kirby, past Justice of the High Court of Australia and an IBAHRI Council Member. The COI's mandate extended to investigation of political prison camps, discrimination, starvation and famine, lack of free expression and media, public execution and absence of fair trial rights. The COI report was delivered in 2014, covering these topics and specifically addressing whether crimes against humanity have been established and if so how those responsible may be rendered accountable. 

The panellists at this IBAHRI showcase session were Michael Kirby; Steven Kay QC, IBA War Crimes Committee Co-Chair; Jung Hoon Lee, Republic of Korea Human Rights Ambassador; Do Hee Yun, Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, Japan; and an anonymous North Korean refugee who gave an account of his life in, and escape from, North Korea.


Webcast interview with Michael Kirby, Chair, UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry on human rights violations in North Korea

The IBA’s first live webcast of 2014, on 21 March, featured Michael Kirby, Chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea. The former Australian High Court judge discussed the findings of the report, his methods of inquiry and what steps can be taken to bring accountability for the gross human rights abuses perpetuated by the Pyongyang regime.


Articles and news

Event: US Policy Toward North Korea: The Case for Instituting a More Effective, Human Rights-Centric Approach, Tuesday 27 October 2015, Washington, DC

The International Bar Association (North America), US-Korea Institute at SAIS, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Defense Forum Foundation, North Korea Freedom Coalition, Yonsei Center for Human Liberty and Freedom House convened this conference to discuss human rights as a central pillar of US policy toward North Korea. 

Panel discussion on potential tougher sanctions against North Korea, May 2015

On 13 May 2015, the IBA North America office and the RFK Center conducted a panel discussion on the prospects for tougher sanctions and the need to stem both illegal and quasi-legal money flows that are the lifeblood of the regime. The event, hosted by the Miller & Chevalier law firm, attracted several members of the local and international media, as well as numerous US government officials, NGO representatives, and members of the academic and think tank communities.

IBA Global Insight, February/March 2015 - 'North Korea - escaping tyranny'

Interview with a North Korean defector who left in 2008 after 48 years of oppression under the Pyongyang regime. He speaks about his remarkable escape and the terrible abuses suffered by the North Korean people.