The White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2015 published by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) last Wednesday shows the glimpse into North Korean society.
The paper, composed of six chapters, reveals ample cases of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights abuses, including the rights of minorities and defectors’ families. But that’s not all it reveals: Based on interviews with 221 defectors selected based on varying demographics, it reveals many unique aspects of North Korean society, including diminished punishments for certain offenses.
For instance, lawyers in North Korea: “The duty of lawyers in North Korea is supporting and accomplishing the policy of the nation and the party, rather than protecting individuals’ rights,” one section reads.
However, some defectors testified that lawyers helped them ask for a reduced sentence: “The lawyer advocated for me, considering I was a young student, when I was tried for river-crossing in 2009,” testimony from 2010 reads.
A divorce also requires number of bribes during the legal process, particularly for women. “For divorce proceedings, large amounts of bribes are needed, and it takes two or three weeks at the earliest,” the report reads. Since 2009, North Korea has been increasing prohibiting the dissolution of one’s marriage, even imposing labor on those who file for divorce.
Even though religion is strongly restricted in North Korea, superstition seems to prevail. The criminal law prohibiting superstition was abolished in 2012. “Superstition is recognized as a non-socialist phenomenon, but I have never seen anybody punished for superstitious behavior,” a defector said in 2013.
Understanding of sexual offenses appears to be very poor: “Most residents don’t think critically of sex crimes, and women cannot help but acquiesce to sex crimes due to the social atmosphere of downplaying women,” the report reads.
In 2014, 62.5 percent of respondents said sex crimes are not punished by criminal law, compared to 37.5 percent of them who said they are punished. In 2012, North Korea eased the punishment of sex crimes in which the aggressor physically overpowered the victim, and punishments of sex crimes in which the victim was a youth have also been reduced from five years of labor to one year of labor, the report reads.
Worship of the portraits of North Korean leader appears to have been limited to party members recently. “For non-party members, the 10 principles are not that meaningful, and awareness of them is getting weaker,” the report reads.
Social discrimination against families of people who defected to South Korea remains strict in North Korea. “My great-grandfather defected to the South during the Korean War, then my father couldn’t be either a member of the State Political Security Department nor a member of party,” a defector said in 2013.
However, this perception appears to be getting weaker. Another defector said that social recognition of the families of defectors may improve if they work sincerely.
KINU has been publishing white papers on human rights in North Korea since 1996, both in Korean and English. The English version is expected to be released on late August.