"The human rights situation in North Korea is grim, grim, grim," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Democracy and Labor Michael Posner. "It is a society where any notion of dissent, any notion of public debate, any notion of free assembly is simply not tolerated."
According to the 2010 State Department Human Rights Report, North Korea continues to be a dictatorship under the absolute rule of Kim Jong-il. There continue to be reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrest of political prisoners, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and torture.
Reports have indicated that North Koreans considered hostile to the regime or who committed political crimes are sent to political prison camps indefinitely. Unconfirmed estimates of the total number of prisoners and detained in political penal-labor camps range between 150,000 and 200,000. Reports indicate that conditions in the political prison camps were harsh and that systematic and severe human rights abuses occurred throughout the prison and detention system.
Methods of prison torture and abuse in North Korea 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 so-called "punishment cells" in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down. There are also reports of prisoners being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods, being hung by wrists or forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse, and forcing mothers recently repatriated involuntarily from China to watch the infanticide of their own new born infants.
The North Korean Human Rights Database Center's 2010 White Paper on North Korean Human Rights indicated that officials have in some cases prohibited live births in prison and ordered forced abortions, particularly in detention centers holding women repatriated from China, according to firsthand refugee testimony. In some cases of live birth, the white paper reported that prison guards killed the infant or left it for dead. Guards also sexually abused female prisoners according to the white paper.
The United States remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation in North Korea. At the release of the 2010 Human Rights Report, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "The United States will stand with those who seek to advance the causes of democracy and human rights wherever they may live."