October 27, 2017 | Policy Brief

North Korean Human Rights Abuses

October 27, 2017 | Policy Brief

North Korean Human Rights Abuses

Both the State Department and a non-governmental human rights organization issued new reports yesterday on North Korea’s abhorrent human rights abuses. Concurrently, the Treasury Department sanctioned ten North Korean officials and entities identified by the State Department as responsible for Pyongyang’s repressive actions.

The new report from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea addresses the regime’s two systems of arbitrary detention: the political prison camp system (kwan li-so) and the detention and hard labor facility system (kyo hwa-so). The regime denies the existence of the former while acknowledging the latter. Both subject their inmates to crimes against humanity, such as starvation, arduous labor, extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and many types of sexual violence.

Also yesterday, the State Department released its third report on North Korea’s human right abuses and censorship, as required by the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016. The targets of concurrent sanctions by Treasury include North Korean officials responsible for the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees, an element of Pyongyang’s human rights abuses that goes beyond its own borders. Repatriated North Korean refugees are subject to public executions or imprisonment in the kwa li-so or kyo hwa-so facilities.

For that reason, Treasury sanctioned North Korea’s consul general in Shenyang, China, who monitors North Korean laborers working in slave-like conditions and supervises the forced repatriation of North Korean asylum seekers. Despite being a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, China continues repatriating North Koreans by falsely labeling them as “economic migrants” rather than political refugees. North Korean refugees in China, therefore, live in hiding and harsh circumstances to avoid detection by Chinese government authorities.

For similar reasons, Treasury sanctioned a North Korean diplomat in Vietnam whom the State Department said had “hands-on” participation in the forced repatriation and disappearances of North Korean asylum seekers. President Donald Trump will visit China and Vietnam next month, and he should insist that all diplomats responsible for such abuses be sent back to North Korea.

To curb Pyongyang’s export of slave labor, Treasury sanctioned two North Korean companies, the External Construction Bureau and the Ch’olhyo’n Overseas Company, who coordinate the export of such laborers to Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria, and the UAE. The UN Security Council stated in an August resolution that North Korea uses the earnings from overseas laborers to fund its nuclear weapons and missile programs. A subsequent resolution in September imposed a cap on North Korean overseas laborers while allowing the completion of current contracts. Pursuant to the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, the U.S. should pressure the governments of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria, and the UAE to shut down the North Korean operations, expel any associated individuals, and stop employing North Korean laborers.

Finally, Treasury designated Pyongyang’s Military Security Command and two of its officials. The State Department said the Command investigates military personnel for anti-regime activity and political crimes. Treasury also sanctioned North Korea’s Minister of Labor for managing the “regime’s economic system based on forced labor.”

These actions are a step in the right direction; pressuring North Korea on human rights should be a key element of Trump’s upcoming trip to Asia.

Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, where Mathew Ha is a research associate. Anthony was the nonproliferation advisor to the U.S. delegation to the 2005 rounds of the Six-Party Talks and spent more than 17 years in the U.S. government. Follow him on Twitter @_ARuggiero.


North Korea