The 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, issued by the U.S. Department of State last month, state that the human rights record of the North Korean Government "remained poor, and the regime continued to commit numerous serious abuses."
According to the report, 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 "highest office of state."
"The most serious human rights abuses tended to occur in countries where unaccountable rulers wielded unchecked power," said Karen Stewart, Acting Assistant Secretary For Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in a press briefing introducing the 2008 report:
"North Korea certainly falls in that category in the general trends of a country where you have a very authoritarian leadership and human rights, I have to say, are really, when you look at the whole situation and read the report for North Korea, abysmal, in that case."
The Human Rights Report stated that the North Korean government continued to commit numerous serious abuses, and the regime subjected its people to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives. Citizens were divided into loyalty-based classes, which determined access to employment, higher education, place of residence and medical facilities. Collective punishment was practiced. Entire families, including children, have been imprisoned when one member of the family was accused of a crime.
The report went on to say that there were numerous reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention and political prisoners. Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening, and torture occurred. Pregnant female prisoners underwent forced abortions in some cases, and in other cases babies were killed upon birth in prisons.
"We and all other sovereign nations have international obligations to respect the universal human rights and freedoms of our citizens", said Acting Assistant Secretary Karen Stewart. "And it is the responsibility of others to speak out when they believe those obligations are not being fulfilled."
The United States urges North Korea to fulfill its obligations as a member of the international community to respect the basic rights to which its citizens are entitled.