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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Human Rights

The people of North Korea continue to suffer from widespread human rights violations. North Korea continues to isolate itself by engaging in provocative acts, and wastes its money on weapons instead of investing in feeding and educating its people.

The State Department’s annual Human Rights Report on North Korea documents severe abuses in the country. The report notes that North Korean defectors continue to report extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detentions and arrests, and torture. They describe a weak judiciary that provides neither fair trials nor due process.

The North Korean Government continues to control almost all aspects of citizens’ lives, denying freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, and association. Reports continue that the government severely restricts freedom of movement and subjects its citizens to forced labor.

Recent NGO studies suggest between 130,000-200,000 North Koreans are incarcerated in an expansive network of political prison and detention facilities throughout the D.P.R.K. These reports describe harsh and life-threatening conditions in the prison camp and detention system, where human right abuses persist and many prisoners are not expected to survive.

For those who attempt to leave North Korea, the situation is also bleak. Reports indicate that border guards had orders to shoot to kill potential defectors, and many individuals caught attempting to cross the border are sent to prison, in some instances, along with members of their extended family.

The D.P.R.K. continually ranks as a Tier 3 country for its trafficking in persons record. The D.P.R.K. is a source country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor, forced marriage, and sex trafficking. Within North Korea, forced labor is part of an established system of political repression. The North Korean Government recruited laborers to work abroad under bilateral contracts with foreign governments. NGOs and researchers estimate that thousands of undocumented North Koreans currently live in northeast China, and as many as 70 percent of them are women. There is no reliable information on how many of these North Koreans have been trafficked, but their status in China as illegal economic migrants who may be deported to North Korea makes them particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

The D.P.R.K. denies religious freedom to its citizens; genuine religious freedom does not exist in the D.P.R.K. Under the terms of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, North Korea is designated a “Country of Particular Concern.”

U.S. Efforts on North Korean Human Rights Issues

The United States is deeply concerned about the well-being of the North Korean people and the human rights conditions in which they live. Human rights are an integral part of the U.S. policy towards North Korea, and how North Korea address human rights has a significant impact on the prospect for closer U.S.-North Korea ties.

The United States remains committed to aiding those who leave North Korea and we work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to aid asylum seekers.

The United States continues to work closely with bilateral partners that share our deep concern about the North Korean people, nongovernmental organizations, and International Organizations, including the UN Human Rights Council, UN General Assembly and with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman.

The U.S. Congress has expressed continued deep concern about the human rights situation in the D.P.R.K. and passed the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004, reauthorized in 2008 and 2012. The Department diligently implements the North Korea Human Rights Act. Ambassador Robert King, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, leads these efforts. Each year, he provides a report to Congress on his activities to promote human rights for the North Korean people.


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