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20 February 2014

UN Commission confirms gross human rights violations in North Korea

UN Commission confirms gross human rights violations in North Korea

This week has seen the release of a groundbreaking report from the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea. The UN Commission concludes that "the gravity, scale and nature" of the violations of human rights in North Korea "reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world". North Korea is given the level of 'absolute' persecution by Open Doors, and remains number one on their World Watch List.

This week also saw the arrest of an Australian missionary in North Korea. On Sunday, 75-year-old John Short was detained from his hotel in Pyongyang for distributing religious pamphlets. His wife Karen said "He was carrying Korean literature on his person and that could be the reason, but again I don't know… his heart was to go (to North Korea). I'm asking people to pray for him." He joins numerous other westerners who have been detained in North Korea in recent years, including South Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae.

A resolution by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013, following years of campaigning by religious liberty organisations, led to the UN Commission which issued their report this week. The Commission focused on testimony from North Korean defectors, as well as organisations including Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). North Korea denied the UN access to the country itself.


The main findings include:

Torture, executions, arbitrary detention and prison camps

  • gross human rights violations are routinely committed by North Korean police and security forces, with the aim of creating fear and preventing any opposition to the government and their ideology;
  • prisoners often face torture;
  • people accused of major political crimes are often "disappeared", arriving at prison camps without having had a trial. It is estimated more than 200,000 North Koreans are in these camps;
  • in political prison camps inmates face forced labour, deliberate starvation, torture, rape and execution. The ashes from burnt bodies from the camps are used as fertiliser;
  • sexual assault of women in public is commonplace.

Freedom of religion, thought, expression are denied:

  • North Koreans are allowed virtually no freedom of thought;
  • children are forced into weekly "confession and criticism" sessions where they have to prove they are living in accordance with Kim philosophy, and must describe the failings of at least one peer;
  • there are mass games to honour the regime and their leader Kim Jong Un, with students recalling being made to practise routines for 6 months, 10 hours a day;
  • every home is fitted with a speaker so that propaganda can be blared directly to all citizens;
  • the media is completely controlled by the state.

Freedom of movement and residence are violated:

  • the state decides where people live and work, based on which social class they have been assigned;
  • virtually all North Koreans are banned from travelling abroad.

Food used as a means of control:

  • state decisions, such as extra conditions imposed on receiving food aid, have led to the death of hundreds of thousands of North Koreans;
  • although things have improved since the 1990s, widespread hunger and malnutrition remain.

Enforced disappearances and abductions from other countries:

  • it is estimated that 200,000 foreigners have been kidnapped by the North Korean regime since 1950, including women abducted to become wives;
  • family members of those who have disappeared face torture and are denied their rights to truth and a family life.


Recommendations include:

  • the creation of a UN-mandated structure and database "to help to ensure accountability for human rights violations" building on "the collection of evidence and documentation work of the commission";
  • targeted sanctions against the perpetrators of crimes against humanity;
  • an extension of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea

There are hopes that this could lead to criminal prosecution of North Korea's regime leaders in the International Criminal Court. However many fear that China could veto this decision at the UN Security Council.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: "we welcome the publication of what is without doubt the most comprehensive, detailed and authoritative documentation of North Korea's appalling human rights violations. But our work is far from over – indeed it is only just beginning. The UN and all member states now have a responsibility to act upon the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry and ensure that this report does not sit on a shelf but serves as a plan of action to end the suffering of the North Korean people and hold the perpetrators of crimes against humanity to account.

"The world's worst human rights crisis, in the world's most closed nation, can no longer be its most forgotten. From this day on, no one can claim they did not know. The world now knows, and it is now time to act."


We encourage you to pray:

  • that the UN Commission of Inquiry would lead to action and real change, freedom and justice in North Korea;
  • that the Christians of North Korea experience the deep love of Christ and God's protection;
  • for NGOs as they offer aid including food, financial support, medicine and Bibles.

You can also:

  • talk to your church or youth group about the situation in North Korea and encourage them to pray (videos and power point resources are available on the Open Doors website).