08/09/2005, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA - NORTH KOREA

Human rights violations in North Korea: death sentences, forced abortions, death by starvation

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Public executions, forced abortions and death by starvation, are common abuses of human rights in North Korea. This was revealed by South Korea's National Human Rights Commission following data collection and interviews with around 150 North Korean exiles who escaped to the south. The report was drawn up by a group from Dongguk University, led by Prof. Koh Yu-hwan.

The report presents a grim picture. At least 75 of those interviewed said they had witnessed public executions. Death sentences are handed down for crimes ranging from theft of a cow to the sale of pornographic material. One refugee who tried to escape more than once, first to China and then to South Korea, testified that a nurse in a hospital had forced a woman to abort by hitting her repeatedly on the abdomen, justifying herself by saying that "we don't have adequate medicines in hospital".

Some witnesses told of hunger suffered by a large part of the population, saying the bodies of people who starved to death were strewn in the streets, side by side with rice vendors. One said: "Between 1995 and 1998 the food shortage was terrible. Everyday, on the way to work, I would see the bodies of people who starved to death in the streets."

According to international organizations, at least two million people have died of hunger in North Korea in recent years. The food crisis is down to a series of natural disasters (flooding and drought) and to mistaken agricultural policies of the military dictatorship.

All these problems prompt hundreds of North Koreans to try to escape to China or to the south. China tends to return fugitives to North Korea in a bid to prevent a large influx of refugees. They are also subject to violations of human rights.

Fugitives who are repatriated from China are taken to concentration camps in Musan and Chongjin and to Office 927 in Hysan. "The first thing you are ordered to do is to strip naked and to stand up and sit down at least 50 times," one defector testified. "This is to see whether there is money hidden up your anus." He said when women give birth in the camps, the babies are placed face-down on the ground. "Mothers break down seeing their baby cry and squirm, and are told by officials, 'Think about your baby crying and don't go to China again,'" he said.

Set up in 1998, the Human Rights Commission has always been reluctant to research and denounce problems in North Korea. This is the first report about the reign of Kim Jong-il. In any case, the Commission has decided not to make the report public, drawing criticism from many Koreans who accuse it of bowing to the "sentiments of the government [of the south] and of politicians", thus forfeiting its independence which is guaranteed by law.

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