Annual Report: North Korea 2010

May 28, 2010

Annual Report: North Korea 2010

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Food crisis

Nearly 9 million people, more than one third of the population, suffered severe food shortages. However, international aid fell drastically following the May nuclear test and donor fatigue. Consequently, the World Food Program scaled back its emergency operation to reach only 2.4 million out of an originally planned 6 million people. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that North Korea's humanitarian problems – including food shortages, a crumbling health system and lack of access to safe drinking water – seriously hampered fulfilment of the population's human rights.

Arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment

Thousands of North Koreans who crossed into China mostly in search of food were apprehended by Chinese authorities and forcibly returned to North Korea. Upon return, North Korean security officials held them in detention facilities near the border for several days during which they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. Most were sentenced to periods not exceeding three years in labour training camps where they were subjected to forced labour for ten to twelve hours a day with no rest days. There were reports of several deaths in these detention facilities as a consequence of hard labour, inadequate food and insufficient access to medicines and medical treatment.

  • In August, following the visit of Hyundai Group chairperson Hyun Jeong-eun to North Korea, the authorities released South Korean national and Hyundai Asan employee, Yu Seong-jin. Yu had been arrested in March at the Kaeseong Industrial Complex, where he was working. The North Korean government detained Yu for criticizing the government and for trying to persuade a woman to leave and go to South Korea.

Enforced disappearances

The authorities failed to acknowledge the use of enforced disappearances. Since the 1950s, the authorities have subjected North Koreans and nationals of other countries such as South Korea and Japan to enforced disappearances. North Korean family members of suspected dissidents disappeared under the principle of "guilt by association", a form of collective punishment for those associated with someone deemed hostile to the regime. Thousands of North Koreans forcibly returned from China during the year were unaccounted for.

Death penalty

The government continued to execute people by hanging or firing squad. Public executions appeared to be carried out for crimes such as murder, human trafficking, smuggling, circulating "harmful" information, disseminating religious material and espionage. According to foreign media reports, at least seven people were executed.

In June, Ri Hyun-ok, 33 years old, was publicly executed in the north-western city of Ryongchon (near the border with China) on charges of distributing Bibles and espionage. Ri Hyun-ok's parents, husband and three children were sent to a political prison camp in the north-eastern city of Hoeryong.