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North Korea's Abysmal Rights Record


A female soldier stands guard in North Korea.

The government of North Korea subjects its citizens to rigid controls over most aspects of their lives.

North Korea’s human rights record remains deplorable, according to the United States government’s 2012 Human Rights Report. The government of North Korea subjects its citizens to rigid controls over most aspects of their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, movement, and worker rights.


Although the North Korean penal code prohibits the use of torture, numerous accounts by individuals who have defected, and reports from non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, released during 2012 describe the use of torture by North Korean authorities in detention facilities.

Methods of torture and other abuses reportedly include severe beating; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such a public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small punishment cells, in which prisoners are unable to stand upright or lie down, being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods; being hung by the wrists; or being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse. North Korean citizens who have defected continue to report that many prisoners in North Korean detention facilities have died from torture, disease, and starvation.

Human rights organizations have reported that North Korean officials had in some cases prohibited live births in prison and ordered forced abortions as recently as 2011. In some cases of live births, prison guards reportedly killed the infants or left them to die. The Korean Institute for National Unification also reported cases of guards sexually abusing female prisoners.

The prison system inside North Korea remains extensive and brutal. NGO reports documented an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 political prisoners and detainees at various detention facilities.

Many prisoners in this political prison system are not expected to survive. Individuals who defected reported public executions in political prison camps. According to these individuals, in some places of detention, prisoners received little or no food and were denied medical care. In past years, defectors reported that Christian inmates were subjected to harsher punishment if their faith was made public. The U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012 reaffirms the United States’ commitment to advancing basic freedoms and dignity of all people, including those in North Korea.
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