North Korea’s Systematic, Widespread and Gross Human Rights Violations Demand International Action

Posted by Tom Malinowski
April 17, 2014
South Koreans Hold a Rally for Human Rights in North Korea on April 14, 2014

Today, members of the UN Security Council met to discuss the findings of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea and to hear compelling personal testimony from survivors Shin Dong-hyuk and Hyeon Seo-lee.  While the members of the Security Council have spent countless hours considering the threat North Korea's nuclear program poses to international peace and security, today for the first time they also contemplated the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that North Korea is committing against its own people, many of which the Commission found amount to crimes against humanity.  These egregious human rights violations, including one of the world's last remaining systems of forced labor camps and penal colonies, have long been abetted -- and hidden -- by the North Korean government’s policy of isolating its people from the world.  That veil has been lifted.

For years the prevailing notion has been that the North Korean regime does not care what the world thinks about its human rights violations, and that therefore efforts to confront it will be futile.  One of the most illuminating passages in the Commission’s report reveals that this assumption is not true.  According to the report, North Korea's Supreme Leader has issued standing orders to kill all labor camp inmates "in the case of war or revolution, in order to eradicate the primary evidence of the existence of the camps and the conditions prevailing therein." A regime that would go to such lengths to cover its human rights violations must on some level recognize that they are a source of shame, for which it could be held accountable.  That is all the more reason to shine a light on what is happening inside North Korea.

The Commission's report has put North Korea's leaders on notice that they can no longer hide the truth.  No matter how many witnesses they may cause to disappear, the world knows that over 100,000 North Koreans are held captive in camps beset by starvation and brutal abuse.  We know that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of North Koreans have perished from preventable hunger, including innocent children and members of vulnerable groups.  We know that the alleged sins of one person in North Korea can condemn his or her entire family to a lifetime of persecution.  We know that generations of North Koreans have endured a system that seeks to control every aspect of their lives, denying them not just the right to demand an alternative way of life, but the ability even to imagine one.  And we know that it is in part to protect this system that the North Korean regime seeks to maintain, through confrontation and provocation, the division of the Korean Peninsula.

That is why the United States is committed to highlighting and relieving the suffering of the North Korean people.  We worked with partners to create and then promote the work of the Commission.  We regularly facilitate the dissemination of uncensored news and information to people inside North Korea.  We seek to protect North Koreans who flee their country.  And we will support international efforts to advance justice for the victims of human rights violations in North Korea.

The more we learn about conditions inside North Korea, the harder it becomes for the regime to deny the facts, and the more determined we become to change them.

About the Author: Tom Malinowki serves as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

For more on the situation in North Korea, see the State Department’s 2013 Human Rights Report on North Korea. Learn more about U.S. government engagement on international human rights at www.HumanRights.gov, or follow the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on Facebook or Twitter.

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