UN's North Korea report: Main findings

North Korean people walk through Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Sunday, 16 February 2014 A panel of experts said North Koreans had suffered "unspeakable atrocities"

A United Nations panel has accused North Korea of crimes against humanity, including systematic extermination, torture, rape, forced abortions and starvation.

It is recommending prosecution of the country's top leaders by the International Criminal Court.

Below are extracts from the report, outlining its main findings.

Arbitrary detention, torture, executions and prison camps

The police and security forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea systematically employ violence and punishments that amount to gross human rights violations in order to create a climate of fear that pre-empts any challenge to the current system of government and to the ideology underpinning it. The institutions and officials involved are not held accountable. Impunity reigns.

Drawing submitted by former North Korea prisoner Mr Kim Kwang-il shows a practice known as pigeon torture A drawing by a former prisoner shows a practice known as pigeon torture

The use of torture is an established feature of the interrogation process in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, especially in cases involving political crimes.

Persons who are found to have engaged in major political crimes are "disappeared", without trial or judicial order, to political prison camps (kwanliso).

In the political prison camps of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the inmate population has been gradually eliminated through deliberate starvation, forced labour, executions, torture, rape and the denial of reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide. The commission estimates that hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have perished in these camps over the past five decades.

Former inmate Jeong Kwang-il told the UN panel he was given so little food during 10 months in a detention centre that he dropped in weight from 75kg to 36kg (5st 9lb). He also described a technique referred to as 'pigeon torture' to force confessions where the hands are handcuffed behind the back.

"Then they hang you so you would not be able to stand or sit," he said.

"If you are hung like that for three days, four days, you urinate, you defecate, you are totally dehydrated… [it] was so painful that I felt it was better to die."

As a matter of state policy, the authorities carry out executions, with or without trial, publicly or secretly, in response to political and other crimes that are often not among the most serious crimes.

Violations of freedom of thought, expression and religion

The commission finds that there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association.

A member of the North Korean Defectors Association hides her face behind a slogan picket during a protest against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's human rights abuses on second anniversary of the death of longtime leader Kim Jong-il in Seoul on 7 December 2013. Defectors from North Korea demonstrate against human rights abuses in the country at a rally in Seoul

The state operates an all-encompassing indoctrination machine that takes root from childhood to propagate an official personality cult and to manufacture absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un.

Virtually all social activities undertaken by citizens of all ages are controlled by the Workers' Party of Korea. The state is able to dictate the daily lives of citizens through the associations run and overseen by the party. Citizens are obliged to be members of these associations.

People are denied the right to have access to information from independent sources: state-controlled media are the only permitted source of information in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).


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Party officials are always given priority in the hospital... they have no interest in how the rest of the population is suffering”

End Quote Former nurse North Hamgyong Province

It is a rigidly stratified society with entrenched patterns of discrimination... Discrimination is rooted in the songbun system, which classifies people on the basis of state-assigned social class and birth, and also includes consideration of political opinions and religion. Songbun intersects with gender-based discrimination, which is equally pervasive.

The songbun system used to be the most important factor in determining where individuals were allowed to live; what sort of accommodation they had; what occupations they were assigned to; whether they were effectively able to attend school, in particular university; how much food they received; and even whom they might marry.

A witness told the UN panel that, due to her low songbun, she was prevented from returning to Pyongyang where she was born. She was also rejected by the university where she had applied to study dance and instead was sent to work in agricultural projects.

This traditional discrimination under the songbun system was recently complicated by increasing marketisation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and by the influence of money, including foreign currency, on people's ability to have greater access to their economic, social and cultural rights.

Abductions and enforced disappearances from other countries

Since 1950, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has engaged in the systematic abduction, denial of repatriation and subsequent enforced disappearance of persons from other countries on a large scale and as a matter of state policy.

Drawing submitted by former North Korea prisoner Mr Kim Kwang-il show different forms of torture Inmates reported having to do repetitive exercises including head stands and squats as punishment

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea used its land, naval and intelligence forces to conduct abductions and arrests.

"Just because our parents were from the South, if we do commit a crime… we always get heavier punishment," one witness told the panel.

"I think that was one of the most unfair things and that is why one of my brothers can't be found, one of my brothers was sent to prison."

Family members abroad and foreign states wishing to exercise their right to provide diplomatic protection have been consistently denied information necessary to establish the fate and whereabouts of the victims.

Family members of the disappeared have been subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. They have been denied the right to effective remedies for human rights violations, including the right to the truth. Parents and disappeared children have been denied the right to family life.

Violations of the freedom of movement and residence

The systems of indoctrination and discrimination on the basis of social class are reinforced and safeguarded by a policy of isolating citizens from contact with each other and with the outside world, violating all aspects of the right to freedom of movement.

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The state decides where citizens must live and work, violating their freedom of choice... This has created a socioeconomically and physically segregated society, where people considered politically loyal to the leadership can live and work in favourable locations, whereas families of persons who are considered politically suspect are relegated to marginalised areas.

The state imposes a virtually absolute ban on ordinary citizens travelling abroad, thereby violating their human right to leave the country.

Violations of the right to food and related aspects of the right to life

The state has used food as a means of control over the population. It has prioritised those whom the authorities believe to be crucial to maintaining the regime over those deemed expendable.

In this handout from the United Nations, North Korean boys eat lunch in a government-run nursery, on 20 April 2005 in Sariwon city, North Hwanghae province, North Korea. The UN says hunger and malnutrition continue to be widespread in North Korea

The state has practised discrimination with regard to access to and distribution of food based on the songbun system. In addition, it privileges certain parts of the country, such as Pyongyang, over others.

"Party officials are always given priority in the hospital, treated in separate rooms; they have no interest in how the rest of the population is suffering," a former nurse told the inquiry.

Even during the worst period of mass starvation, the state impeded the delivery of food aid by imposing conditions that were not based on humanitarian considerations.

While acknowledging the impact of factors beyond state control over the food situation, the commission finds that decisions, actions and omissions by the state and its leadership caused the death of at least hundreds of thousands of people and inflicted permanent physical and psychological injuries on those who survived.

While conditions have changed since the 1990s, hunger and malnutrition continue to be widespread. Deaths from starvation continue to be reported.

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