Human rights in North Korea have seen “no improvement” under Kim Jong Un, the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Tuesday.
In the annual World Report 2014 the human rights NGO said that over the past year Kim Jong Un had consolidated his “rights-abusing rule,” citing state crackdowns on attempted escape, worsening labor rights, and widespread corruption as indicators of worsening human rights in North Korea.
In a statement on the Human Rights Watch’s website, deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said that Kim Jong Un had ”picked up where his father and grandfather left off, by overseeing a system of public executions, extensive political prison camps, and brutal forced labor”.
“The government now recognizes that the accounts of escaping North Koreans reveal Pyongyang’s crimes,” he said, adding that “it is [now] doing what it can to stop people from fleeing.”
Robertson said the conception that Kim Jong is more moderate than his predecessors was “fiction”, arguing that the idea had been “thoroughly refuted by the continued brutality of the government he now leads.”
The NGO also said worsening rights were evidenced by harsher penalties associated with crimes of political opposition – most notably for Jang Song Thaek – and an increase in charges of “vague national security crimes”.
While the NGO was negative about every aspect of human rights in North Korea, not all observers agree that human rights developments are universally negative in the DPRK.
In an upcoming interview with NK News, Michael Kirby, Chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, said that while it represented “small pickings…there is evidence of improvement” in the human rights situation. He added that the forthcoming UN report intends “to give credit where credit is due”.
Professor Andrei Lankov, who wrote prior to the purge of Jang Song Thaek that the human rights situation in North Korea appeared to be slowly improving, told NK News that “the general trend under Kim Jong Il was of a slow but significant improvement”.
“It might have reversed under Kim Jong Un who appears to be a rather tough leader,” he said, “more prone to resorting to violence than his father… But I would wait a few more years to say with any certainty whether a blacklash has actually happened”.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has heard wide-ranging testimony from North Korea experts and defectors, and will presents its full report to the Human Rights Council on March 17th.
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