Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1987

*The United States has no diplomatic relations with the
Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). North Korea
forbids representatives of governments that do have relations
with it, as well as journalists and other invited visitors,
the freedom of movement that would enable them to assess
effectively human rights conditions there. Most of this
report, therefore, is a repeat of previous human rights
reports based on information obtained over a period of time
extending from well before 1987. While limited in scope and
detail, the information is indicative of the human rights
situation in North Korea today.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) , formed in
1948 during the Soviet administration of the northern half of
the Korean peninsula, is a Communist dictatorship maintained
by the ruling Korean Workers' (Communist) Party (KWP) , with
its overriding aim of retaining absolute power and enforcing
unanimous popular support for the country's governing system
and its leader, Kim II Sung. Individual rights are entirely
subordinated to the KWP. Pro forma elections to the Supreme
People's Assembly were held in November 1986, but the
Government allows no genuinely free elections.
The North Korean regime subjects its people to rigid
controls. In a society professing to be "classless," there
are strong indications that a de facto, anachronistic caste
system has developed. The State establishes security ratings
for each person; these ratings determine access to jobs,
schools, medical facilities, and stores as well as admission
to the KWP, the route to the highest levels and privileges of
the society. The party, government, and military elite enjoy
significant economic privileges unavailable to the people,
such as access to special stores and medical facilities,
better housing, and better education.
The Government, through its centralized economy, has been able
to provide a basic, if Spartan, standard of living for its
people. Despite some modest economic progress, however. North
Korea remains a less-developed country with a stagnating
standard of living and a worsening balance of payments problem.
No evidence suggests that North Korea has improved its
extremely poor human rights performance. Both short- and ,
long-term trends indicate continued one-family rule with scant
respect for basic human rights and human dignity. The regime
severely punishes "crimes against the State." The Government
imprisons or, more often, exiles to remote villages with their
entire families, persons who fail to conform to the dictates
of the State. The atavistic belief that persons are guilty by
association, that entire families share in the guilt of
alleged enemies of the State, plays a dominant role in
administering punishment. Surveillance by informers is
prevalent. The authorities allow no outside information other
than that approved and disseminated by the Government to reach
the general public, although senior government officials are
somewhat better informed.
President Kim II Sung ' s 14-year effort to groom his son, Kim
Chong II, as his successor testifies to the enormous power the
elder Kim has amassed during 39 years of rule. The younger
Kim has been elevated to several senior party positions during
the last few years. An absence of public debate about the
succession also suggests a lack of real popular participation
in the political process.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
     a. Political Killing
Little information is available on whether politically
motivated killing occurs in North Korea. The regime, according
to several defectors, has summarily executed certain political
     b. Disappearance
There is no information available on disappearance.
     c. Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
According to the Freedom House 1985-86 Report, "torture is
reportedly common" in North Korea. The accounts of torture
and beatings of crew members of the USS Pueblo after their
capture in 1968 are well-known and documented. Another
reliable source on prison conditions and treatment of
prisoners in North Korea is Venezuelan poet Ali Lameda, whom
the authorities detained from September 1967 through 1974,
allegedly for attempted sabotage and espionage. While
physical torture was not used on Lameda, he states that Korean
prisoners were routinely beaten. Lameda notes that "beating
was also used as a means of persuasion during interrogation."
Lameda reports the use of deprivation of food to force
"confessions," as well as solitary confinement, continuous
interrogation, enforced waking periods, poor or nonexistent
medical treatment, and 12 hours of forced labor per day. In
addition, the regime denies prisoners family visits, parcels,
correspondence, writing materials, newspapers, and clothing
changes. The Government regards prisoners as having no rights.
Much of what Lameda has reported has been corroborated by Choi
Un-Wui and her husband. Shin Sang-Ok (hereinafter referred to
as the Shins), the Korean film producer and actress, who
reportedly were kidnaped by North Korean operatives and who
left North Korea in 1986. Although Shin witnessed no beatings
during his incarceration, he heard repeated stories of such
treatment. Shin personally experienced many of the other
forms of torture mentioned by Lameda, including denial of
sleep, starvation rations, and solitary confinement, as well
as being required to sit motionless for long periods of time.
     d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Exile or Forced Labor
Information on specific criminal justice procedures and
practices in North Korea is extremely scarce. North Korea has
refused to permit outside observation of its legal system and
practices. The accounts provided by the crew members of the
USS Pueblo, Lameda, and the Shins comprise virtually all the
specific information available on the operation of the
criminal justice system in North Korea.
North Korean law provides that prisoners may be held for
interrogation for a period not to exceed 2 months. This
period may be extended indefinitely, however, if the
Interrogation Department obtains approval of the Chief
Prosecutor. Lameda states that he was detained for 12 months
without trial or charge. Government authorities ridiculed his
request for a lawyer of his choice and an open trial as
"bourgeois." Shin notes that it is very difficult for family
members or other concerned individuals to obtain information
regarding charges being leveled against an accused person or
even where an accused person is being detained. Habeas corpus
or its equivalent does not exist in law or in practice.
According to newspaper reports. North Korean defectors in
South Korea estimate that in 1982 the regime was holding at
least 105,000 "ideological offenders" in 8 major labor camps.
The Shins believe this estimate to be understated (some
estimates range as high as 150,000 detainees) and state that
the plight of political prisoners has worsened over the last
few years. As one example, the Shins note that 10 years ago
the authorities allowed political prisoners family visitors
and gifts, but now deny both. The Shins further report that
the Government punishes the families of political detainees
for the political beliefs of their relatives. It is not
unusual, according to the Shins, for the State to banish
entire families to outlying rural regions. Amnesty
International has received unconfirmed reports of arrests of
those opposed to heir apparent Kim Chong II.
There is no prohibition on the use of forced or compulsory
labor. The Government routinely uses military conscripts for
forced labor. Recent North Korean announcements that it has
demobilized large numbers of troops may signify little more
than that the regime is using those troops as a source of
cheap, easily exploited labor for major construction projects.
The Shins report that conscripts are not told where they will
serve or for how long. Amnesty International's 1987 Report
cites reports that some "political prisoners" were reportedly
sentenced to "corrective labor" which could be served at a
person's normal workplace (working for part or no wages) or at
work in agriculture or mining in areas where conditions are
very harsh.
     e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The DPRK Constitution states that courts are independent and
that judicial proceedings are to be carried out in strict
accordance with the law. All courts, however, are responsible
to the people's assemblies, which effectively provide arbitrary
government control of the judiciary. Article 138 states that
"cases are heard in public, and the accused is guaranteed the
right to defense; hearings may be closed to the public as
stipulated by law." Lameda claims that he was denied a public
trial, as does Shin. Lameda reports that after his first
arrest, the regime imprisoned him for a year without a hearing;
after his second arrest, he was put through a closed session
without benefit of counsel of his choice, or even knowledge of
the charges. His tribunal was under the direction of the
Ministry of Internal Security, with one person serving as both
judge and prosecutor.
The regime did not allow Lameda the right to speak out (other
than to admit guilt) or to defend himself. His "defense
counsel" represented him by making a lengthy speech praising
Kim II Sung and then requesting a 20-year sentence, which the
tribunal imposed after 5 minutes of deliberation.
In a 1979 interview with American journalist John Wallach,
North Korean Supreme Court Justice Li Chun Uk noted that the
defense counsel's job is "to give the suspect due punishment."
Open court appears to consist of an announcement of the term
of imprisonment, which has already been determined by the
Provincial Safety Bureau.
The Shins note a distinction between political and common
criminals, asserting that the State only affords the latter
trials. North Korea equates "political criminals" with those
who criticize the regime. Other reports suggest that
political offenses range from sabotage to failing to applaud
appropriately at political rallies.
     f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondence
The regime subjects the people to a pervasive program of
indoctrination designed to shape and control individual
consciousness. Preschool children are drilled in homage to
Kim II Sung and his family, while youths and adults are
required to participate in daily ideological training
conducted during school or at places of employment.
Approximately half the school day is devoted to indoctrination.
This is also provided by government-organized neighborhood
units for persons who neither work nor go to school. The
daily indoctrination requires rote recitation of party maxims
and policies and strives for ideological purity. Multiple
North Korean security organizations enforce these controls.
According to reports in South Korean journals, the Government
prevents Japanese wives of Koreans repatriated from Japan
since 1959 from visiting Japan. Because their letters are
subject to strict censorship, many have lost contact with
their families. Some reports suggest that the Government
discriminates against these Japanese wives in other ways,
including access to jobs.
Although the Constitution states that "citizens are guaranteed
the inviolability of person and residence and the privacy of
correspondence," practice is otherwise. Lameda reports the
privacy of his residence was violated and listening devices
used against him. When the authorities arrested him, they
seized and destroyed without warrant all his collected papers
and poetry.
According to the Shins, electronic surveillance of residences
is pervasive and it is common practice for neighbors to report
on one another. In school, the authorities encourage children
to discuss what their parents have said at home. The
Government conducts monthly "sanitation" inspections to check
on household activities. Each house is required to have
portraits of Kim II Sung and Kim Chong II.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
     a. Freedom of Speech and Presso
Although the Constitution states that "citizens have the
freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, association, and
demonstration," the regime permits such activities only in
support of government objectives. Other articles of the
Constitution that require citizens to follow the "Socialist
norms of life" and to obey a "collective spirit" take
precedence over individual political or civil liberties.
Amnesty International in its 1987 Report stated that a range
of sources continued to allege that the rights of freedom of
expression and association guaranteed under the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which North Korea
acceded in 1981, were strictly curtailed. According to these
reports, persons criticizing the President or his policies
were liable to punishment by imprisonment or "corrective
labor .
Foreign media are excluded, domestic media censorship is
enforced, and no deviation from the official government line
is tolerated. The regime prohibits listening to foreign media
broadcasts except by high government officials, and violators
reportedly are subject to severe punishment. Most urban
households have a radio and some have television, but reception
is limited to domestic programming. The Government controls
artistic and academic works, and visitors report that the
primary function of plays, movies, operas, and books is to
contribute to the cult of personality surrounding "the great
leader," Kim II Sung, and "the beloved leader," Kim Chong II.
The Shins, who made a number of movies at the behest of the
North Korean leadership, state that movie producers have
political advisers who ensure the ideological purity of the
final product. Actors must undergo background investigations
prior to obtaining a role. They also undergo constant
     b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government has developed a pervasive system of informers
throughout the society. No public meetings can be held
without government authorization. There appear to be no
organizations other than those created by the Government. The
state even prohibits apolitical groups such as neighborhood or
alumni organizations. Trade unions and professional
associations exist solely as another method of government
control over the members of these organizations. There are no
effective rights to organize, bargain collectively, or strike.
     c. Freedom of Religion
Although the Constitution provides that "citizens have
religious liberty and the freedom of antireligious
propaganda," the regime, in fact, has severely persecuted
Christians and Buddhists since the late 1940's. No churches
have been rebuilt since the Korean War. The regime uses
religious organizational facades to proclaim the practice of
religious freedom, but appears to have long since purged the
original membership. The regime discriminates against persons
whose family or relatives once had a strong religious
involvement. Several reports suggest that the Government does
not currently persecute the very small number of Christians
who continue to worship at home, although the state strictly
prohibits public worship.
     d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The DPRK regime strictly controls internal travel, requiring a
travel pass for any movement outside one's home village; these
passes are granted only for required official or certain
personal travel. Personal travel is usually limited to
attending the wedding or funeral of a close relative. Long
delays in obtaining the necessary permit often result in
denial of the right to travel even for these limited purposes.
State control of internal travel is also ensured by a ration
system that distributes coupons valid only in the region
Reports, primarily from defectors, indicate that forced
resettlement, particularly for those deemed politically
unreliable, is common. Permission to reside in, or even
enter, Pyongyang, the capital, is strictly controlled.
Foreign travel is limited to officials or trusted artists and
performers. The regime allows no emigration, and few refugees
or defectors succeed in fleeing the country. The regime
retaliates against the relatives of those few persons who
manage to escape. According to Freedom House, "rights to
travel internally and externally are perhaps the most
restricted in the world: tourism is unknown--even to
Communist countries."
In 1959 North Korea began actively encouraging Korean
residents overseas to repatriate to "the Fatherland." Some
observers estimate that during the next several years over
100,000 overseas Koreans, almost all from Japan, voluntarily
repatriated to North Korea. Since then, however, reports of
the harsh treatment given repatriates has reached overseas
Koreans, reducing the flow to a trickle. Because of their
"corruption" by exposure to foreign influences, repatriates
are isolated from North Korean society until they can be
indoctrinated and their ideological reliability gauged.
North Korea has permitted entry to some overseas Korean
residents to visit their relatives, and several have made
repeat visits.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Gonvernment
There is no mechanism by which the citizenry as a whole can
effect transitions in leadership or changes in government.
The political system in North Korea is dominated by Kim II
Sung, who leads the KWP and also heads the Government. Kim
has groomed his son Kim Chong II to succeed him. Over the
last few years Kim Chong II has been acquiring increasing
power and influence. The legislature, the Supreme People's
Assembly, has never taken any action other than unanimous
passage of resolutions presented to it by the leadership. In
an effort to create an appearance of democracy, the DPRK has
created several "minority parties." They exist only as
rosters of officials who have token representation in the
People's Assembly and completely support the government line.
Free elections do not exist in North Korea. Although
elections to the Supreme People's Assembly were held in
November 1986, and to city and county assemblies in March
1983, in all cases the Government approved only one candidate
in each electoral district. According to the governmentcontrolled
media, 100 percent of the voters turned out to
elect 100 percent of the approved candidates. Such
"elections" are an exercise in which people are forced to
participate and to approve the Government's candidate.
Most citizens have no meaningful participation in the
political process. To achieve even a semblance of real
participation, one must become a member of the KWP. The
selection process for entrance to the party is long and
rigorous. Persons from "bad social backgrounds," (those who
have relatives who fled south during the Korean War, those
whose families had strong religious involvement or were once
property owners or members of the middle class, and those who
have relatives who are political prisoners), are effectively
denied entry into the party. Most levels of the party have no
voice, serving only to carry out the decrees and "on the spot
guidance" promulgated by party leader Kim II Sung and his top
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
No organizations exist within North Korea to report on or
observe human rights violations. North Korea participates in
no international or regional human rights organizations.
Amnesty International has requested permission to visit North
Korea. The Government has neither responded to nor
acknowledged the request. A December 1982 request by Amnesty
International for information on North Korean laws, on use of
the death penalty, and on reports of arrests and long-term
imprisonment of political figures also received no reply.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution states that "women hold equal social status
and rights with men." However, few women have reached high
levels of the party or the Government. Women are represented
proportionally in the labor force, and personnel in small
factories are predominantly women.
The regime discriminates against the physically handicapped.
Handicapped persons, other than war veterans, are reportedly
not allowed within the city limits of Pyongyang. The dwarf
community has been specifically singled out for harsh
treatment; all members of it have been banished to a remote,
rural region.
North Korea is a homogeneous country and relatively devoid of
minority groups.
No data are available on minimum age for employment of
children, minimum wages, or occupational safety and health.
The State assigns all jobs; ideological purity, rather than
professional competence, is the standard used in deciding who
receives a particular job. Laborers have no input into
management decisions and free labor unions do not exist.
Absence from work without a doctor's certificate results in a
reduction in a worker's rations. The Constitution stipulates
a workday limited to 8 hours, but several sources report that
most laborers work 12-16 hour days. The regime's propaganda
euphemistically refers to these extra hours as "patriotic
labor" done on a "voluntary" basis by the workers.