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Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

b. Disappearance

NGO, think tank, and press reports indicated the government was responsible for disappearances.

During the year there was no progress in the investigation into the whereabouts of 12 Japanese citizens believed to have been abducted by the DPRK.

The Republic of Korea (ROK) government and media reports noted the DPRK also kidnapped other foreign nationals from locations abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. The DPRK continued to deny its involvement in the kidnappings. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK reported that 516 South Korean civilians, abducted or detained by DPRK authorities since the end of the Korean War, remained in the DPRK. South Korean NGOs estimated that during the Korean War the DPRK abducted 20,000 civilians who remained in the North or who had died.

During the year South Korean media reported that DPRK Ministry of State Security agents were dispatched to cities near the DPRK border in China to kidnap and forcibly return refugees. According to international press reports, North Korea may have also kidnapped defectors who relocated to South Korea and then were on travel in China. In some cases North Korea reportedly forced these defectors’ family members to encourage the defectors to return to China in order to capture them.

Defectors alleged that the Ministry of State Security (MSS) did not always notify families when a relative was arrested and sentenced to detention in a political prison camp.

According to The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), the state closed Hoeryong kwanliso (Camp 22) in late 2012 and demolished the Sirmchon/Kumchon-ri zone with Yodok kwanliso (Camp 15) in late 2014. The whereabouts of the former prisoners of these facilities remained unknown.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place”; however, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to control internal travel carefully. The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, forcibly returned refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons.

In-country Movement: The government continued to restrict freedom of movement for those lawfully within the state. Under the law, individuals who violate travel regulations were subject to warnings, fines, or forced labor. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. A lack of infrastructure hampered movement, as did security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town. The 2018 KINU White Paper reported that individuals were able to move more freely within their own province as the use of bribery as a means to avoid punishment became more widespread.

The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.

Foreign Travel: The government also restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businesspersons, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit with relatives, undertake short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.

Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past, it forcibly resettled tens of thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on the social status of their family members.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not allow emigration, and reports stated that it continued to increase its severe, tight security on the border, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.

The government maintained orders to shoot to kill those attempting to leave without official permission. The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection. Individuals, including children, who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases, the state subjects asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. Many would-be refugees returned involuntarily from foreign states received imprisonment under harsh conditions. Some sources indicated authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.

On November 13, 2017, a North Korean soldier was shot five times by North Korean border guards as he crossed over the DMZ and defected to South Korea.

Media reported in April that Kim Jong Un ordered government agencies to exert greater pressure on family members of defectors in order to encourage them to return home. Defectors reported family members back in North Korea contacting them and urging their return, apparently under pressure from North Korean officials. According to the Ministry of Unification, 1,127 North Koreans defected to South Korea in 2017. Through the end of July 2018, 703 North Korean defectors entered South Korea, a 9.7 percent drop from the same period the previous year.

Past reports from refugees noted the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who may be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning), and persons who crossed repeatedly for “political” purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsher punishment, including death), including those who had alleged contact with religious organizations based near the Chinese border. The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for the crime of illegally crossing the border.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylees and did not participate in international refugee fora.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future