• Press Release

North Korea/US Summit: Horrific human rights situation must not be ignored at historic meeting

June 8, 2018

The near total denial of human rights in North Korea should not be ignored at next Tuesday’s historic meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Chairman Kim Jong-un, Amnesty International said.

Francisco Bencosme, Advocacy Manager for Asia Pacific at Amnesty International USA, said:

“While these two leaders meet in Singapore to discuss the vital issue of nuclear weapons, President Trump must use this opportunity to raise human rights concerns with President Kim Jong-un and urge him to publicly commit to urgent reforms. The world will be watching.”

Last month, Amnesty International wrote to President Trump to outline the widespread, gross and systematic human rights violations in North Korea and highlight key areas to press Chairman Kim Jong-un on. These include:

Prison Camps

An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people continue to be held in North Korea’s political prison camps, where they are at risk of torture, forced-labour and other ill-treatment as well as executions – with some violations amounting to crimes against humanity. Many of those held in prison camps have not been convicted of an internationally recognized crime. They are arbitrarily detained for being related to individuals deemed threatening to the state, or “guilt by association”.

International observers should be given immediate access to all detention facilities and steps should be taken to release all those held for activities that should not be criminalized.

Freedom of expression 

North Koreans are notoriously cut-off from the rest of the world. Severe restrictions on access to information and communications persist. Although there are now more than 3 million North Koreans with mobile phone subscriptions, it is essentially a domestic network, with international services blocked. Individuals face surveillance, harassment or even detention if they try to contact family and friends who have left the country.

Separated families

An estimated 1 million Koreans have been separated or forcibly removed from their families through displacement during the war, enforced disappearances and abductions.  There are an estimated 30,000 North Koreans in South Korea, Japan and other countries with no legal way to communicate with family members back home.

The North Korean authorities must lift unjustified restrictions on international communications, including inter-Korean contacts. The government must also address abductions and cooperate with other states’ investigations into such allegations.

Humanitarian aid

According to the World Food Programme, 10.3 million people in North Korea are undernourished. Young children, pregnant women and nursing women are among the hardest hit. Many people suffer from chronic malnutrition. North Korea should accept international aid and allow unhindered access for humanitarian workers. 

Overseas workers

North Korea continues to send workers to other countries to generate income, mostly for the government. The North Korean authorities maintain tight control over the workers’ communications and movement. The workers are also deprived of information about workers’ rights in their host country, where they are subject to excessive working hours and exploitative conditions.