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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

DIVERSE CITY: Humanitarian violations in North Korea

Published: April 16, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

What is the first thought that runs through your mind when you hear “North Korea?” Is it nuclear bombs? Or Communism? Or even their “dear leader,” Kim Jong-Il? Or maybe you were one of the few who thought about the human rights violations.

At the end of World War II, the Korean peninsula was divided into Soviet and American occupied zones. Because North Korea refused to participate in the United Nations supervised election in 1948, two separate Korean governments were created for the two occupation zones. The clash of Communism and Democracy led to the Korean War in 1950. A 1953 armistice ended the fighting, however the two countries are technically still at war with each other because a peace treaty was never signed. Currently, communist North Korea is a single-party state led by the Korean Workers’ Party, of which Kim Jong-Il is the head. They claim to have an arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction and to possess nuclear weapons. This is the North Korea that is commonly portrayed throughout the world. However, there is another side to this dark story.

Many people around the world are unaware of the human rights violations that exist in North Korea. Do you even know that they exist? Here are some basic facts about the human rights crisis from the organization Liberty in North Korea:

The North Korean government forbids freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. They even control the press and barely allow any outside information into the country. North Korea consistently ranks first among the countries with the least amount of freedom of the press. Freedom of religion, physical movement, and workers’ rights are also severely restricted.

The mid-1990s famine killed over one million people in part due to the government’s neglect and mismanagement of relief efforts. During the past five years, the government has continued to let their people suffer from severe food shortages and a near-total breakdown in the public health system. This has led to devastating malnutrition in North Korea and an entire generation of children physically and mentally impaired.

Thirty-seven percent of children in North Korea have stunted grown due to malnutrition and 23 percent are underweight.

There are an estimated 200,000 North Koreans who were forced into political concentration camps. They are provided no explanation or reasoning as to why they are brought to such a place. Usually, all sentences are for life, and execution and torture are a common method of punishment. Recently, satellite images revealed gas chambers in these concentration camps.

Article Seven of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines 11 categories of acts that constitute crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment, torture, rape, sexual slavery or enforced prostitution, persecution and enforced disappearance of persons, apartheid and other inhumane acts. North Korea is guilty of committing every single one of these acts on a systematic basis with the exception of apartheid.

North Korean laborers under labor contracts are forced to work under arrangements where they are denied the freedom of movement and a large portion of their salaries are deposited into government accounts.

About 10,000 to 15,000 laborers are subjected to harsh conditions in jobs involving construction and logging.

Estimates of 50,000 up to 400,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries, risking torture and execution if captured.

Of these refugees, 70 percent of North Korean women and children who escape into China face exploitation and sex trafficking. In North Korea, children are routinely forced into child labor, and sexual servitude within the prison camps.