UN Receives NK Human Rights Review


( Visit UN’s Periodic Review Page )

Submission for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Submitting Organisations:

  • Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (Tokyo, Japan; founded 1998)

LFNKR is a non-denominational independent registered non-profit organisation (NPO). Life Funds’ primary activities include protecting and providing material support (food, clothing, medicine) to North Korean defectors in China; assisting defectors to reach a third country safely; and lobbying and advocating at the national and international levels for the rights of North Korean refugees. LFNKR was the recipient of the Tokyo Bar Association’s Human Rights Award for 2008.

  • Human Rights Without Frontiers (Brussels, Belgium; founded 2001)

In 1989, a number of human rights defenders founded an NGO called Bruxelles-Droits de l’Homme/ Brussels- Human Rights/ Brüssel Menschenrechte”, later re-named Droits de l’homme sans frontières. The organisation has gradually expanded into Human Rights Without Frontiers International (2001) with branch offices in Belgium, China, USA, and Nepal. Since 1997, the Belgian branch of HRWF Int. has been an associate member of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. The main focus of our activities is monitoring, research, and analysis in the field of human rights as well as the promotion of democracy and the rule of law on the national and international levels.
( Visit HRWF Web Site )

Executive Summary:
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), despite being a signatory to four major international human-rights instruments, fails to uphold even the most basic of its citizens’ human rights, whether political, social, or economic. The North Korean regime has instead chosen to adopt a belligerent stance vis-à-vis the international community, giving higher priority to its military development than to infrastructure, education, or basic nutrition. We, as non-denominational humanitarian NGOs entirely independent of any government, strongly urge the North Korean government to work in cooperation with the international community, requesting assistance with special expertise where necessary, to ensure the full potential of its people is realised.


North Korea, DPRK, human rights abuses, starvation, refugees, migration, torture, forcible repatriation, labour camps, abortion, China



Institutional and human rights structure
North Korea is a signatory to several international human-rights treaties:  the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women; and the Convention on the rights of the Child.  There are no national mechanisms for the redress of human rights abuses.  Even if such mechanisms existed and were effective and legitimate, which seems highly unlikely under the current system, it is questionable whether they would be used.  There appears to be little consciousness among the North Korean public about human rights and/or their violation, and media and other potential sources of information coming into the country are severely restricted by the government. There does not appear to be a civil society as such in North Korea.



Implementation of international human rights obligations

1.  Equality and non discrimination
North Koreans are divided into three categories depending on their perceived loyalty to the regime. People in the most favoured category are accorded certain privileges not available to those in the lower two categories, including more freedom to travel. Permission to live in the comparatively well-off capital Pyongyang is also restricted to certain members of the most favoured class.

People are subject to punishment for the actions and perceived disloyalty of family members up to three generations (i.e., a person is liable for the actions of his/her parents and grandparents). The families of those who leave North Korea are especially vulnerable to surveillance and punishment (including imprisonment in labour camps) as a result of the family member’s defection.

2.  Right to life, liberty and security of the person
Violations of the right to life include the forced abortions of North Korean women returning from China on the basis that the foetuses are half-Chinese (i.e., carry “Chinese seed” and are thus not “pure” Korean), the persecution of those who cross the Chinese border in search of food to survive, and the operation of gulag-style labour camps, the prisoners of some of which are intended never to be freed. Violations of the right to liberty include the prohibition on travel both within the country and abroad without permission, which is generally unavailable to all but the elite; and the prohibition on media sources other than those approved by the central government, and harsh punishments for those who clandestinely listen to or watch foreign media. Violations of the right to security of the person include arbitrary arrest and detention, including sentences to hard-labour camps.

3.  Administration of justice and the rule of law
North Koreans continue to be subject to arbitrary arrest and detention in hard-labour camps, with no legitimate trial or appeals process. The family members of those so detained are also subject to increased surveillance, interrogation, torture, and/or detention. There is no working judicial mechanism by which North Koreans can answer allegations of wrongdoing and be heard by an impartial judge and/or a jury of their peers. Torture is commonly used by the security forces, including on those returning from China (either voluntarily or due to forced repatriation by the Chinese authorities), where they had sought food, employment, and/or relief from the repression of the North Korean authorities.

4.  Freedoms of religion and belief, expression, association and peaceful assembly, and right to participate in public and political life
The North Korean government holds that its citizens enjoy freedom of religion but in fact North Koreans are punished for practising religion, or for being suspected of doing the same. North Koreans returning from China who admit to or who are suspected of meeting with missionaries while in China are subject to more severe punishment than those who are not thought to have met with religious personnel.

North Koreans enjoy no freedom to assemble for purposes other than those prescribed by the central government. Criticism of the leadership, whether or not overt, is punished severely; relatives of those accused of criticising the government are also subject to increased surveillance and harsh punishment, including being sentenced to hard-labour camps.

Elections are not free; the leadership is approved by a rubber-stamp Parliament, the members of which are chosen by the Workers’ Party and not by the citizens of North Korea. As such, North Koreans have no redress to their Member of Parliament and no choice of elected representative. Since there is effectively only one political party permitted and the Party controls all other aspects of North Koreans’ lives, dissent is not possible. The lack of freedom to assemble freely in public and the existence of only Party-controlled media make it impossible for citizens to express dissenting opinions. Those who do are punished severely. As a result there is no meaningful “public life” or “political life” as such. There has been no apparent development of a meaningful civil society.

5.  Right to work and to just and favourable conditions of work
Many North Koreans lack work or any viable means to support themselves. Those with jobs are often given no choice about the job they do but are obliged to undertake the work they are ordered to do by the central government.

6.  Right to social security and to an adequate standard of living
The collapse of the food rationing and distribution system, combined with repeated natural disasters, has caused North Koreans to suffer a severe shortage of food. North Koreans lack freedom of movement both within their own country or to go abroad, which leaves them vulnerable to punishment for travelling without authorisation in search of food. This dire situation has been mitigated slightly by the North Korean government’s permitting limited marketplace activity.

7.  Right to education and to participate in the cultural life of the community
In practice, North Korean children are frequently unable to attend school because of the desperate shortage of food, in addition to a lack of adequate clothing and supplies for school. Even those children who are able to attend school are often sent out by their teachers to gather plants or animals which are then collected by the teachers on behalf of the Workers’ Party, rather than being able to attend lessons.

8. Right of children to access to health care
Access to hospitals and clinics is limited and even when access is available, medicines and most kinds of medical treatment are unavailable, having a deleterious effect on the health of North Korean children.

9.  Minorities and indigenous peoples
North Korean society is largely homogeneous. However, North Korean women who cross the Chinese border and are found to be pregnant upon their return to North Korea are commonly forced to undergo abortions in order to prevent the births of half-Chinese children.

10.  Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers
North Korea is not a sought-after destination for asylum seekers. However, the treatment of North Korean citizens who seek asylum elsewhere deserves mention. Under North Korean law, leaving the country without permission is a crime and carries heavy penalties. North Koreans who cross the Chinese border to escape repressive government policies and/or to seek food frequently return to North Korea, either by choice or because the Chinese authorities have forcefully repatriated them. Such returnees are generally interrogated and tortured upon their return, according to defector testimony. In addition, although reports of automatic execution have become rarer than in the past, it is still common for would-be defectors to be sent to hard-labour prison camps, and for their families to be targeted for additional surveillance, harassment and discrimination by the authorities.

National legislation and voluntary commitments / National human rights institutions activities
There is no meaningful national legislation or activity in relation to human rights.

Public awareness of human rights
In general, public awareness of human rights likely remains fairly limited. However, the average North Korean defector who crosses the border into China to seek food, employment, and/or permanent settlement in China or another country returns to North Korea numerous times. Often this is because of the Chinese government’s policy and practice of forcefully repatriating North Korean defectors. Partially as a result of this, North Koreans appear to be somewhat better-informed than in the past about life outside North Korea, including the differences in wealth and freedoms between China and North Korea.

Cooperation with human rights mechanisms
The North Korean government has resolutely refused to cooperate with human-rights agencies and does not cooperate with human-rights NGOs. The continued refusal of access of human-rights organisations to most parts of the country severely limits the ability of such agencies to assess the factual situation on the ground in North Korea and to assist the North Korean government to take steps to improve its treatment of its citizens with regard to human rights.



We see no achievements of note in the area of human rights protection in North Korea. Indeed, we question the apparent prioritising of North Korea’s costly nuclear ambitions at the expense of the basics needed for the survival of its people. We express our grave concern about the continued existence of hard-labour camps; arbitrary arrest and detention; the lack of an impartial and credible judicial system; the lack of freedom of movement, expression, assembly, and religion; the prohibition of all media and information sources not controlled by the central Workers’ Party; the use of torture; the general unavailability of adequate nutrition and education for children; the punishment of North Koreans who cross the Chinese border; and the forced abortion of pregnant women returning from China. We are extremely concerned about the belligerent, aggressive and uncooperative stance of the North Korean government with respect to the international community, which has severe consequences for the human rights of the North Korean people.



We urge the North Korean government to abide by the international instruments protecting human rights to which it is a signatory. We strongly urge the North Korean government to cooperate with the international community, and to seek to take its place as a fully productive member of the international community. Specifically, we urge the North Korean government to:

  • Allow its citizens to have full rights of free movement, both within the country and outside its borders;
  • Cease the use of torture and of forced abortions;
  • Seek to develop and independent and credible judicial system;
  • Cease arbitrary arrests and detentions;
  • Commit to working toward the eventual closure of all prison camps;
  • Allow representatives of human rights organisations appropriate and full access to monitor the human rights situation on the ground;
  • Commit to working with the international community, seeking any necessary outside expertise, to rebuild its agricultural and food-distribution systems;
  • Commit to working with the international community, seeking any necessary outside expertise, to rebuild its educational system and ensure that all North Korean children receive, at minimum, appropriate free and compulsory primary education that is comparable to those of other countries;
  • Commit to working with the international community, seeking any necessary outside expertise, to ensure it has high-quality medical facilities stocked with suitable supplies and staffed by qualified medical personnel available to all North Koreans;
  • Encourage the development of private enterprise, seeking any necessary outside expertise;
  • Allow a variety of media and other non-State-controlled information to be available to North Korean society;
  • Commit to taking a cooperative and productive place in international society that will make unnecessary the diversion of precious resources to excessive military development; and
  • Respect and abide by all of the commitments it has made in becoming a signatory to international human-rights instruments.

April 20, 2009