The European Politics Blog

The United Nations recently released a report highlighting the systematic human rights abuses that regularly take place in North Korea. The controversial report states that murder, slavery, torture, starvation and executions routinely take place in the country, and has been termed by the authoritarian regime as a “political plot and nothing more than creating room for more free and fair”.

The report, although largely, accurate, should be taken with a pinch of salt because the investigators were not given access to the country, to begin with. The United Nations for its part stated that it had continuously asked North Korean representatives to take part in public hearings and question witnesses and the sources of the interviews come primarily from South Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Commissioned by retired Australian judge, Michael Kirby, some of the atrocities reported include a woman forced to drown her own baby, children imprisoned from birth and starved, and families tortured for watching a foreign soap opera.

Although many of the testimonies come from South Korea, where they choose to migrate to through China, in recent years there has been a significant drop in the number of North Koreans allowed access to the country. The North Korean refugees denied access to their first pitstop, China, return them to their country of origin or another country where they are likely to be persecuted, terming them as economic migrants.

The United Nations said that it would refer its findings to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the possibility of persecution. A letter of warning was also dispatched to Kim Jong Un outlining that he could face persecution for crimes against humanity, and one of the options being taken into consideration is an ad hoc tribunal by the United Nations.

Gratefully, China, a strong ally of North Korea, has already stepped in to state that it would not permit human rights charges to proceed to the ICC. Both the United States State Department and Human Rights Watch have expressed support for the report, but refrained from placing their full weight behind the recommendations, stopping at only bringing to full attention the plight of the North Korean people, the present human rights situation in North Korea is having.

Confucian social structures and the troubling experiences of the Japanese colonial occupation influences the country’s political and social hierarchy which has been attribute as the main cause of the human right violations. Human rights violations in the country range from an abhorrence of the idea of freedom of thought, opinion or expression to discrimination based on the citizens social status determined at birth.

Although the state has been addressing all of the issues at stake here, as the country continues to make socio-economic progress, what is particularly worrying is the impact it is having on the allocation of food resources to North Koreans.

Because the country practices an unjust system of cherrypicking the candidates it seems fit for certain professional roles, the sort of accommodation they will receive, and the kind of schools they will attend, and even if they are capable of attending schools to begin with, the system has opened itself up to abuse.

The report highlights that there has been discrimination of the diaspora of people that will receive food over the others, and this is just after the country recently recovered from widespread famine. The state prefers to prioritize Pyongyang over the others, and because state-controlled efforts weren’t sufficient to provide food assistance to the nation’s peoples, international assistance was requested, but this was denied by both United States and South Korea over marine issues.

The United Nations report fails to acknowledge this and instead states that the reason food assistance wasn’t provided was merely because restriction of movement amongst North Koreans, in search for food and trading or working in informal markets, prevented from news breaking out of the dire situation in the country.

The report highlights that humanitarian agencies did not receive full co-operation on the matter, when they did agree to supply food assistance to North Koreans, but there needs to be a better understanding of the plight of the state here. It was only recently, July 2013 to be precise, that United Nations agreed to embark on shelving food aid to North Korea, in the midst of growing international political unrest involving the country’s nuclear aims.

The World Food Programme (WFP) approved $200mn worth of food aid for almost all of the nation’s children, pregnant and nursing women. The food is manufactured in the North but through the help of imported ingredients, and this was done to address the WFP’s concerns over the apparent risk of malnutrition for young children, and their intellectual and physical development as well, owing to a diet lacking in key proteins, fats and micronutrients. The last time that the United States had provided food assistance to North Korea was from late 2008 to March 2009.

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