A report released by the UN Tuesday revealed North Korean women undergo forced labor, sexual violence, and forced abortion and infanticide in the country’s detention centers.
The report acknowledges that “over seventy years since its establishment, [North Korea] remains a closed society and leaving the country without official permission is a crime under domestic law.” However, women who manage to escape and then forcibly return or fail to flee, face extraneous inhumane punishments.
The atrocities, outlined by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), indicate serious human rights violations under the country’s commitment to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
This is not new.
In 2014, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted research that found the country’s abusive treatment to be widespread, systematic, and constituted a crime against humanity.
The newest report uncovers the extent of malnutrition, beatings, unsanitary conditions, and overcrowded conditions, with some women saying 20 women were detained in 15 square-meter cells (161 square-feet).
Sinister mistreatment within pre-trial detention centers, holding centers, short-term labor camps, and regular prisons indicate an ongoing issue in North Korea.
“I barely survived by being fed with five small potatoes,” one woman said in 2016. “I was extremely hungry. I even ate rice and other leftovers in the water after washing the dishes of prison officers.”
International human rights standards determine that female prisoners be guarded exclusively by female prison staff. Yet, all women interviewed by the OHCHR said female detainees were almost always guarded by male officers.
Sexual violence, furthered by gender-based manipulation, is common in North Korea’s detention centers. “He threatened that he was [an officer]… so that I would be humiliated if I rejected him. He even told me he could help me to be released sooner if I did as he said,” one woman said in the report.
A pregnant woman reported in 2015 that one “woman had become pregnant in China [and] the local laws prevented any North Korean woman from giving birth to a mixed-race baby. She was eventually forced to have an abortion.”
According to the UN’s report, instructions to North Korea’s government outlined “that the right to freedom of movement is guaranteed for all citizens.” Furthermore, issues of invasive and degrading body searches, beatings, and inadequate space, food, water, and healthcare have been made clear.
In the effort to end gender-based violence, the OHCHR will require cooperation and accountability on behalf of North Korea’s leadership going forward into the investigation.