News / Asia

Study Details North Korean Caste System

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (file photo)North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (file photo)
x
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (file photo)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (file photo)
VOA News
A U.S.-based human rights group has released a report detailing how North Korea ranks its citizens based on their family's loyalty to the Kim dynasty in what it says amounts to an oppressive political caste system.

The study released Wednesday by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea says all of the country's citizens are divided into three heredity-based classes: loyal, wavering, or hostile.

The report argues that "inequality is assigned at birth," and that citizens have little control during the course of their lifetime over their socio-political classification, known as "songbun" in Korean.


Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of group, said the so-called wavering and hostile classes total about 72 percent of the population of more than 24.5 million North Koreans.

He says loyalists enjoy perks such as being able to live in the comparatively modern capital city of Pyongyang, and preferences in access to food, housing, medical treatment, education and employment.

However, those in the hostile class are forced to live in the most impoverished northeastern provinces, and are often assigned to hard labor positions at mines and farms.

Scarlatoiu says the classification of hostile can follow a family for up to three generations. He says under the system a person can be confined to these lower rungs for offenses such as being on the losing side of an argument within the Korean Workers Party, failing to take adequate care of a picture of a North Korean leader or supporting ideas, religious or otherwise, that do not conform to official ideology.

The report was based on interviews with 75 North Korean defectors.  the report says the government keeps a file on each North Korean from the age of 17 that is updated every two years.

It says the "Songbun" system has largely escaped the notice of the Western world, who have instead focused on North Korea's vast camps of political prisoners, public executions, extreme information controls, and nuclear weapons program.
----------------------------------
VOA's Amanda Scott talks with Greg Scarlatoiu, the group's executive director of the group, for more information on this political caste system.

This week your organization released a report detailing North Korea’s Social Classification System also known as “Songbun” can you summarize this report?

At birth each North Korean is assigned a social classification status, a Songbun status, by the government based on the perceived political loyalty of one’s family to the regime. North Korea is a U.N. member state and it should abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which asserts that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity rights. However, all North Koreans are classified as loyal, wavering or hostile and face discrimination on the basis of this classification in terms of food distribution, housing, residential location, employment, education and all aspects of a person’s life.

In North Korea the so-called wavering and hostile classes are estimated  to total about 72 percent of the population or more than 60 million North Koreans. Basically only the small politically loyal class is entitled to live in Pyongyang and benefit from extensive privileges.

Can you tell us a little more about the privileges afforded to those in the loyal class compared to those living in hostile class?

Being part of the loyal class the core loyal class means first and foremost better access to food, better access to housing, better access to residential location and most of those living in Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea actually belong to the core loyal caste. So basically this involves better access to employment, the best jobs available in North Korea are made available to those of higher songbun, belonging to the loyal class. Also access to education is also based on the social classification system. So pretty much songbun governs all aspects of life in North Korea.

Is it possible for a person to move within caste, either being downgraded or upgraded to a higher caste?

It would be nearly impossible to move up for one who has been classified as a member of the hostile caste, by the way, in instances where members of the hostile class have been confined to political prisoner camps in remote areas of North Korea, guilt by association is applied up to three generations.

In the case of those belonging to the wavering class, under exceptional circumstances it may be possible to be promoted to the loyal or core class if one is perceived as having done deeds that prove extraordinary loyalty to the regime. If one did extraordinary things that tremendously helped the Kim regime.

How in particular do your actions affect the classification of your family members?

What we hear from North Korean defectors who once were political prisoner camps detainees is that one of the questions often asked by many of the political prisoner camp detainees is that many of them don’t know why they are there.

These are all perceived associations, so basically one might end up in a political prisoner camp for wrong doing, wrong thinking, wrong knowledge, wrong association or wrong class background. This is a feudal practice going back to the days of the Joseon dynasty which preceded the 40 years of Japanese occupation that in turn preceded Kim Il-sung’s regime in North Korea.

Are there any signs that this system will change now that Kim Jong-un has taken over as North Korea’s leader?

Kim Jong-un’s story is a very interesting story. His mother was a Japanese Korean. She was a dancer , a member of a dance troop who Kim Jong-il fell in love with. And certainly descendants of Japanese who returned to Korea where classified as lower Songbun in North Korea’s classification system. So Kim Jong-un himself is the son of the former leader of North Korea and the grandson of a former leader of North Korea and his mother comes from what would strictly perceived from a North Korea viewpoint as a person of lower songbun.

Does this mean he would take greater interest in dismantling the songbun system?

Probably not and on the contrary he might feel tempted to hide and restrict access to information about his mother and her background.

He is very unlikely to shake things up so soon in the process even if he wanted to. Let us remember the reason why he was selected to be his  father’s successor was not that he was seen as a potential reformer, but that he was seen as the one of the three sons who  was most likely to follow in his father’s footsteps.

The North Korean regime rely so much on the songbun social classification system that it would be difficult to change things overnight. That being said, it is imperative that North Korea, the North Korean regime take immediate steps toward the full counting of those who are being held at the political prison camps it is of the essence that North Korean begin considering the dismantlement of these political prison camps.

You May Like

Sydney Hostage-taker Failed to Manipulate Social Media

Gunman forced captives to use personal Facebook, YouTube accounts to issue his demands; online community helped flag messages, urged others not to share them More

UN Seeks $8.4 Billion to Help War-Hit Syrians

Effort aimed at helping Syrians displaced within their own country and those who've fled to neighboring ones More

Who Are the Pakistani Taliban?

It's an umbrella group of militant organizations whose objective is enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan 'whether through peace or war' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ben from: USA
June 12, 2012 12:42 PM
Unless you ment "of more than 24.5 million" not "or more than 24.5 million"


by: Salim from: Seoul
June 07, 2012 9:50 AM
North Korea has a population closer to 25 million, not 60 million as the article states.


by: Ben from: USA
June 07, 2012 9:25 AM
Whoever wrote this cant use google. "72 percent of the population or more than 60 million North Koreans....." The entire population of north Korea is not even 25 million(see CIA world factbook another US government source). That number will put the total population north of 80 million. This basic error makes me wonder if an editor even read this.


by: Anonymous
June 06, 2012 7:39 PM
You are a cult member or you are not a Korean (North).

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid