Head of state Kim Jong-il
Head of government Kim Yong-il
Death penalty retentionist
Population 23.9 million
Life expectancy 67.1 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 63/63 per 1,000
The government continued to systematically violate the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of millions of North Koreans. Food shortages gripped much of the country and there were fears of increased food insecurity due to poor economic management and reduced international aid. Thousands crossed the border into China, mostly in a desperate search for food. The Chinese authorities arrested and forcibly repatriated thousands of North Koreans who faced detention, interrogation and torture. Some were subjected to enforced disappearance, which the government failed to acknowledge. Politically motivated and arbitrary detentions continued. Severe restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of movement persisted. At least seven people were executed. Independent human rights monitors continued to be denied access.
In April, North Korea expelled international nuclear inspectors. In May, North Korea announced that it had conducted a second nuclear test, after increasing tensions with the international community. In June, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to tighten sanctions targeting North Korea's nuclear and missile development programmes, and encouraged UN members to inspect cargo vessels and airplanes suspected of carrying weapons and other military material.
The second half of the year was characterized by reconciliatory measures towards the international community. In August, the authorities released two US journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, following a visit by former US President Bill Clinton. The two journalists had been sentenced to 12 years' hard labour in June for illegally entering North Korean territory.
In August, a North Korean delegation attended the funeral of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. The authorities released four South Korean fishermen who had been detained for illegally entering its waters. In September, North Korea resumed meetings to reunite families separated during the Korean War – the first to take place for nearly two years. In October, North Korea indicated that it was willing to resume bilateral and multilateral talks on its nuclear programmes.
On 30 November, the government implemented a currency reform, exchanging old for new at a rate of 100:1.The maximum amount of money that could be converted was 300,000 won per person (approximately 150 euros). The authorities were reportedly forced to increase the exchange rate slightly following protests in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang.