Annual Report: North Korea 2013

May 23, 2013

Annual Report: North Korea 2013

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  • In response to a query from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the government stated in April that Shin Sook-ja, last known to have been held with her two daughters in Political Prisoner Camp 15 at Yodok, had died of complications linked to hepatitis. They also claimed that her daughters did not want any contact with their father Oh Kil-nam, now based in the Republic of Korea. This information could not be verified and it was not clear when Shin Sook-ja died or where. The fate and whereabouts of her two daughters remained unknown.
  • In December, North Korea announced that it had detained Kenneth Bae, a US national of Korean origin, on charges of committing “hostile acts against the Republic”. Kenneth Bae ran a travel company that specialized in taking tourists and prospective investors to North Korea. He had entered the country on 3 November and was reportedly detained after security officials found he had a computer hard disk that they believed contained delicate information about the country.

Enforced disappearances

The authorities continued to refuse to acknowledge cases where North Korean agents carried out abductions on foreign soil of people from countries including Japan, Lebanon, the Republic of Korea and Thailand.

  • In July, Fujita Takashi attended a meeting of the UN's Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances where he raised the case of his brother Susumu, feared abducted by North Korea from Japan in February 1976.

Freedom of expression

The authorities continued to impose severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, opinion and assembly. Strict media controls were believed to have been imposed to prevent challenges to the government during its period of transition. There appeared to be no independent civil society organizations or independent political parties.

Freedom of movement

The authorities reportedly further tightened controls along the border with China and threatened individuals crossing it without permission with severe punishment on their return.

  • In February, 31 people who left North Korea without permission were detained by Chinese authorities. According to news reports, in March, China forcibly returned some members of this group back to North Korea where they risked detention, torture and other ill-treatment, forced labour and death.

Death penalty

Executions of political opponents were reported, but this information could not be verified.

  • According to unconfirmed reports received in October, Army Minister Kim Chol was executed in early 2012 for drunkenness and inappropriate behaviour during the mourning period of former leader Kim Jong-il.

International scrutiny

In October, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the “use of political prison camps, frequent public executions and severe food shortages, coupled with the extreme difficulty of gaining access, make DPRK [North Korea] singularly problematic.” For the first time, both the UN Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly passed resolutions without a vote in March and November respectively. Both expressed serious concerns at continuing reports of systematic, widespread and grave violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in North Korea.