More than three and a half years after it closed its borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea, has cracked open its gates to allow the return of its own citizens. “While this marks a first step to review the Government’s restrictions on freedom of movement,” said United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the DPRK, Elizabeth Salmón, “it also raises concerns about an imminent forced repatriation of escapees, the majority of them women.” She warned that their return would expose them to torture, sexual violence or extrajudicial killings.
But even at the best of times, women and girls in the DPRK face widespread hardships. Their rights continue to be undermined; their voices silenced. Crucially, women’s voices are consistently excluded from discussions related to conflict resolution, to the detriment of any normalization process.
Special Rapporteur Salmón warned that “No sustainable peace will be realized if women’s rights continue to be undermined,” and called for “broad-based women’s participation” in inter-Korean peace and security efforts.
“I can think of few other country contexts where it is really so critical to have the voices of women fully elevated,” said Lisa Carty, Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council.
That said, “We are deeply troubled by the ongoing reports of human rights abuses, including gender-based violence. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, forced abortion, arbitrary detention, and forced labor.”
Indeed, human rights violations in the DPRK are “systematic, widespread, and gross.” The fact is that some “unspeakable atrocities” committed by the regime against its own citizens, may rise to the level of crimes against humanity.
“The DPRK’s human rights violations and abuses are inextricably linked with the country’s weapons programs as they enable the development of the DPRK’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs,” said Ambassador Carty, noting that the government “diverts a large share of resources to weapons.”
“The United States continues to call for an immediate end to these violations and abuses, and for accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the survivors,” she said.
“The United States will continue to stand up for the fundamental freedoms for the people of the DPRK.”