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Deplorable Human Rights In North Korea

A January 2003 satellite image of the Kwan-li-so Number 14 Kaechon prisoner camp in North Korea.

Conditions in North Korea’s vast network of political prison camps are reportedly harsh and life threatening.

North Korea’s human rights record remains deplorable. According to the 2011 State Department Human Rights Report, the government subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement and worker rights. Conditions in North Korea’s vast network of political prison camps are reportedly harsh and life threatening.

The penal code prohibits torture or inhuman treatment, but numerous defector accounts and non-governmental organizations report the use of torture by authorities in kwan-li-so political prisons. Methods of torture reportedly include severe beatings; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small “punishment cells” in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down; being forced to kneel, or sit immobilized for long periods; being hung by the wrists, or forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse; and forcing mothers to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants. Many prisoners reportedly died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, or a combination of these causes.

Non-governmental organizations, defectors, and press reports indicate that there are several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps inside North Korea, including forced labor camps and separate camps for political prisoners. Estimates of the total number of prisoners in the kwan-li-so camps range between 130,000 - 200,000 detainees. A South Korean think tank Database Center on North Korean Human Rights reported that 138,000 people were being held in North Korean detention centers, with between 130,500 and 131,000 held in five active political prison camps.

No human rights monitors are permitted to inspect any prisons or detention facilities in North Korea. The United States calls on the North Korean government to uphold the fundamental freedoms of all its people.