The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) remains a repressive country. The country, a closed and highly militarized society, is a dictatorship under the absolute rule of Kim Jong Il, General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons are believed to be held in political prison camps. Defectors report that many prisoners died from torture, starvation, disease, exposure, or a combination of these causes. North Korean officials reportedly prohibited live births in prison, and forced abortions were performed, particularly in detention centers holding women repatriated from China. The regime controlled many aspects of citizens' lives, denying freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly, and association. A number of repatriated North Koreans faced severe punishment upon their return, including possible execution. The regime also severely restricted freedom of movement and worker rights. There were widespread reports of North Korean women and girls being trafficked in China.
The United States consistently works to raise international awareness about the DPRK's human rights abuses and to identify concrete ways to improve human rights conditions. The United States seeks to improve North Koreans' access to outside sources of information and to provide opportunities to increase their engagement with and exposure to the outside world.
The U.S. Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea, a position created by the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act, has worked to raise international awareness of North Korea’s human rights abuses. U.S. programs provide funding to NGOs that raise international awareness about DPRK human rights and document abuses. In addition, the U.S. government continues to expand efforts to increase the flow of independent information into North Korea, primarily by supporting radio broadcasts into the DPRK. The United States also takes a leading role in urging other countries to undertake efforts to address the DPRK's abuses, including through cosponsoring resolutions on the North Korean human rights situation at the UN General Assembly and supporting requests from the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK for access to the country.
U.S. officials raise awareness of the country's human rights abuses with the international community in both bilateral and multilateral fora. U.S. officials also urge other governments to call for improvements in North Korean human rights as an important component of their bilateral relations with the country.