News / Asia

South Korean Human Rights Body Breaks Silence on Abuses in North

This is the first report issued by South Korea's government-funded human rights watchdog on North Korea's alleged abuses

South Korean Human Rights Body Breaks Silence on Abuses in North
South Korean Human Rights Body Breaks Silence on Abuses in North

Multimedia

Audio

South Korea's government-funded human rights watchdog has issued its first report on widespread abuses in North Korea.  The report reflects a significant shift in South Korea's approach to Pyongyang.

The National Human Rights Commission report issued Wednesday says the number of North Korean political prison camps has declined, but the number of people being detained in them is still high.

Kim Hyung-wan, a policy director with the commission, says the camps began operating in the late 1950s, and there were 13 of them in 1970.  After 1980, Kim adds, the number dropped to six camps, which currently are believed to hold 200,000 prisoners.

Human rights organizations say the North routinely incarcerates entire families for minor political infractions by one member, such as damaging a photo of leader Kim Jong Il, or humming a South Korean pop song.

The camps also punish those caught trying to leave North Korea, or who have been forcibly returned from China.

Kim says around 2000, the punishments differed based on the motivation for defecting.  However, he says over the past three years, the punishment for attempting to defect has grown harsher.

This is the first time the South Korean commission has reported on abuses North Koreans face in their own country.  Kay Seok, a researcher in Seoul for Human Rights Watch, says such a report has been long awaited.

"It is certainly one step in the right direction, and a welcome change," Kay said.

The report reflects South Korea's willingness to confront the North publicly on human rights issues since the inauguration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak two years ago. 

The government-funded commission remained silent on North Korean human rights under two prior South Korean administrations, which had a policy of engaging Pyongyang and avoided openly criticizing it.

Seok points out during those years, the commission said what went on in North Korea was beyond its mandate.

"Which actually conflicts with the fact that the South Korean government has been accepting and resettling North Korean refugees all along … under the South Korean constitution, which defines the entire Korean peninsula as the South's territory. So their logic was not very convincing," Kay said.

Wednesday's report comes on the second day of North-South talks, and amid new tensions.  A few days ago, Pyongyang responded to reports of a South Korean contingency plan for instability in the North with threats of what Pyongyang described as a "holy war." 

And on Wednesday, the South's defense minister said the South would be ready to preemptively strike North Korea if it were certain that Pyongyang was about to launch a nuclear attack.

You May Like

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs