September 23, 2020

Marked for Life: Songbun, North Korea’s Social Classification System

On June 6th, the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea partnered with the American Enterprise Institute to present their newest report on North Korean human rights, entitled “Marked for Life: Songbun, North Korea’s Social Classification System.” Author of the report Robert Collins was the featured speaker while AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt moderated the event with Andrew Natsios and Marcus Noland sitting on the panel as discussants.

After some introductory remarks from HRNK’s Executive Director, Greg Scarlatiou, Collins began by describing the Songbun system as a “tool of oppression used by a single individual to further his gain.” This was a reference to Kim Il-sung who in the 1950s began implementing Songbun as party policy. As a result of this, Collins explained that Songbun remains “above [North Korea’s] constitution,” adding that since 1973 the elite have refined how to use it as a “tool of oppression.” He then proceeded to describe the social system in greater detail, noting that the system “is designed to make sure that those who are deemed trustworthy get what is best… [and] whatever is left over trickles down.” Collins continued to illustrate this by showing how Songbun permeates almost every aspect of a North Korean’s life including housing, food rations, employment, and clothing.