The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Korea, North

By Vexen Crabtree 2019


#equality #freedom #human_rights #north_korea #politics #tolerance

North Korea
Democratic People's Republic of Korea

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Land Area 120 410km21
Population24.6m (2011)2
Life Expectancy70.52yrs (2017)3
ISO3166-1 CodesKP, PRK, 4084
Internet Domain.kp5
CurrencyWon (KPW)6

This is a fully totalitarian dictatorship with no pretence to embrace any modern concept of human rights nor personal freedom8,9. N. Korea does worse than average in LGBT equality10. It falls into the bottom 20 in commentary from Human Rights Watch11, its Global Peace Index rating12 and in its nominal commitment to Human Rights13. It is second-from-the-bottom in fighting corruption14 and in supporting press freedom15. And finally, it is the worst in eliminating modern slavery16. Of the millions of North Koreans subject to slavery, the "clear majority" are being held in forced labour by the state itself17. The Lonely Planet guide for traveller says that visiting North Korea is "a fascinating trip into another, unsettling world... with your official minders, you can roam mountain resorts and ancient capitals, though the main attractions remain the bombastic iconography of the North Korean regime and the surreal existence of ordinary people in this troubled, autocratic state"18.

1. Politics and Freedom

#burundi #corruption #eritrea #france #human_development #human_rights #indonesia #mass_media #North_Korea #peace #politics #slavery

North Korea is one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world. In his sixth year in power, Kim Jong-un–the third leader of the dynastic Kim family and head of the ruling Workers´ Party of Korea (WPK) who exercises almost total political control–intensified repressive measures; tightened domestic restrictions on travel and unauthorized cross-border travel with China; and punished North Korean for contacting the outside world. The government continued to generate fearful obedience from citizens by means of threatened and actual execution, detention, and forced labor under harsh, sometimes fatal, conditions. [...]

[The United Nations stated that] the government committed crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and forced abortion. [...]

The North Korean government restricts all basic civil and political liberties for its citizens, including freedom of expression, religion and conscience, assembly and association. It prohibits any organized political opposition, independent media and civil society, and free trade unions. Lack of an independent judiciary, arbitrary arrest and punishment of crimes, torture in custody, forced labor, and executions maintain fear and control.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)9

Corruption (2012-2016)14
Pos.Higher is better
Avg Score14
2New Zealand90.6
172S. Sudan13.8
175N. Korea08.8
World Avg43.05
Global Peace Index (2012)12
Pos.Lower is better12
2New Zealand1.24
150Central African Rep.2.87
151N. Korea2.93
153Congo, DR3.07
World Avg2.02
Human Rights Watch Comments (2017)11
Pos.Higher is better
117N. Korea-10
121Congo, DR-10
World Avg-1.9

Nominal Commitment to HR (2009)13
Pos.Higher is better
3Costa Rica23
177N. Korea7
178Sao Tome & Principe7
181St Lucia6
World Avg15.1
Press Freedom (2013)15
Pos.Lower is better15
177N. Korea8390
World Avg3249

Slavery (2018)16
Pos.Lower is better
% Victims16
161S. Sudan2.05
164Central African Rep.2.23
167N. Korea10.46
World Avg0.65

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory19. Private households and national endeavours have frequently been augmented with the use of slaves. The Egyptian and Roman empires both thrived on them for both purposes. Aside from labourers they are often abused sexually by their owners and their owners' friends20. The era of colonialism and the beginnings of globalisation changed nothing: the imprisonment and forced movements of labour continued to destroy many lives except that new justifications were invented based on Christian doctrine and the effort to convert non-Christians. By 1786 over 12 million slaves had been extracted from Africa and sent to colonial labour camps, with a truly atrocious condition of life21. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves22.

The abolition of the slave trade was a long and slow process. Until a relatively modern time, even philosophers, religious leaders and those concerned with ethics justified, or ignored, the problem of slavery23. The first abolitionists were always the slaves themselves. Their protests and rebellions caused the industry to become too expensive to continue. After that, it was the economic costs of maintain slave colonies that led the British to reject and then oppose the slave trade globally. Finally, the enlightenment-era thinkers of France encouraged moral and ethical thinking including the declaration of the inherent value of human life and human dignity24. A long-overdue wave of compassionate and conscientious movements swept across the West, eliminating public support for slavery, until the industries and churches that supported it had no choice but to back down.

'Modern slavery' includes forced labour (often of the under-age), debt bondage (especially generational), sexual slavery, chattel slavery and other forms of abuse, some of which can be surprisingly difficult to detect, but often target those fleeing from warzones and the vulnerable.25. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi16, Eritrea16, Indonesia26) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery17.

Of the millions of North Koreans subject to slavery, the "clear majority" are being held in forced labour by the state itself17 and the Walk Free Foundation say that when other countries purchase coal from North Korea, there is the "greatest concern" that it is produced via slave labour27. The state enslaves people by withdrawing food rations from people if they don't do the work the state requires; sometimes (far too often) people prefer to be employed rather than unemployed, as being unemployed risks being sent to labour camps for up to 6 months at a time. And so, people find themselves in the absurd position of having to pay their company in order to be listed as an employee even if the (fake) companies they work for have no actual output. But as companies must have output, the employees are made to directly give produce to the company, in order to remain listed as 'employed' there28.

On paper I was a labourer but in reality I did not work as one. It was a place that raised pigs to support the People's Army and shock brigades. It was supposed to raise pigs. But no one actually raised pigs there. There was no space to raise pigs there and no feed for them either. Since the labourers cannot work, they are required to pay a certain amount of money instead. Every month the labourers must give 2kg of pork to the management office.

Female Adult, Respondent No. 23
Quoted in "Global Slavery Index" by Walk Free Foundation (2018)28

2. Gender Equality

#North_Korea #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote29
Pos.Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
58N. Korea1946
World Avg1930

Women in North Korea face a range of sexual or gender-based abuses, as well as violations of other rights in common with the rest of the population. These include punishment for acts of their husband or other relatives, torture, rape and other sexual abuses in detention facilities, sexual exploitation, or forced marriages of North Korean women in China, and other forms of sexual and genderbased violence and discrimination.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)9


3. LGBT Equality and Tolerance

#equality #homosexuality #human_rights #intolerance #North_Korea #sexuality #tolerance

LGBT Equality (2017)10
Pos.Higher is better
113N. Korea8
115Congo, (Brazzaville)5
World Avg12.6

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence30. LGBT tolerance and equal rights have been fought for country-by-country across the world, often against tightly entrenched cultural and religious opposition. Adult consensual sexual activity is a Human Right, protected by privacy laws31. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries30. The Social & Moral LGBT Equality Index was created to compare countries and regions, granting points to each country for a variety of factors including how long gay sex has been criminalized and the extent of LGBT legal rights. Graded negative points are given for criminality of homosexuality, unequal ages of consent, legal punishments and for not signing international accords on LGBT tolerance. The signs in many developed countries are positive, and things are gradually improving. Europe is by far the least prejudiced region (Scandinavia in particular being exemplary). The Middle East and then Africa are the least morally developed, where cultural bias goes hand-in-hand with state intolerance, all too often including physical violence.

4. North Korea Overall National and Social Development

#human_development #North_Korea

Social & Moral
Development Index
Pos.Higher is better
146San Marino45.1
148N. Korea45.0
World Avg53.8

The Social and Moral Development Index concentrates on moral issues and human rights, violence, public health, equality, tolerance, freedom and effectiveness in climate change mitigation and environmentalism, and on some technological issues. A country scores higher for achieving well in those areas, and for sustaining that achievement in the long term. Those countries towards the top of this index can truly said to be setting good examples and leading humankind onwards into a bright, humane, and free future. See: What is the Best Country in the World? An Index of Morality, Conscience and Good Life.

Current edition: 2019 Jan 01
Parent page: Korea, North (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)

All #tags used on this page - click for more:

#burundi #corruption #equality #eritrea #france #freedom #homosexuality #human_development #human_rights #indonesia #intolerance #mass_media #North_Korea #peace #politics #sexuality #slavery #tolerance #women

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References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

Casely-Hayford, Gus
(2012) The Lost Kingdoms of Africa. Published by Bantram Press. A hardback book.

Crabtree, Vexen
(2019) "What is the Best Country in the World? An Index of Morality, Conscience and Good Life" (2019). Accessed 2019 Jan 13.

Donnelly, Jack
(2013) Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. 3rd edition. Published by Cornell University Press.

Human Rights Watch
(2018) World Report 2018. Covering the events of 2017.

Klein, Naomi
(2004) No Logo. Originally published 2000, HarperCollins, London, UK. A paperback book.

Lonely Planet
(2014) The World. Subtitled: "A Traveller's Guide to the Planet". Published by Lonely Planet, London, UK. Each chapter is devoted to a specific country and includes a list of the most interesting places to visit and a few other cultural notes.

McCall, Andrew
(1979) The Medieval Underworld. 2004 edition. Published by Sutton Publishing. A paperback book.

Thomson, Oliver
(1993) A History of Sin. Published by Canongate Press. A hardback book.

United Nations
(2011) Human Development Report. Published by the UN Development Programme. This edition had the theme of Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All. Available on UN Development Program: About the Human Development Index.
(2017) Human Development Report. Published by the UN Development Programme. Data for 2015. Available on

Walk Free Foundation
(2018) Global Slavery Index. Published on


  1. World Bank data on accessed 2013 Nov 04.^
  2. UN (2011) .^
  3. UN (2017). Table 1.^
  4. International Standards Organisation (ISO) standard ISO3166-1, on, accessed 2013 May 01.^
  5. Top level domains (TLDs) are managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) on^
  6. According to ISO4217.^
  7. According to ITU-T.^
  8. Donnelly (2013). p171.^
  9. Human Rights Watch (2018). p398-402.^^^
  10. Sources:^^
  11. Human Rights Watch (2018). Negative and positive comments have been added to create a score for each country covered in the report.^^
  12. ^^
  13. Max possible=24. Total amount of treaties ratified. Nominal Commitment to Human Rights report published by UCL School of Public Policy, London, UK, at accessed 2011 Apr 30.^^
  14. Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (2017). Accessed 2017 Dec 30. The scores given are the TI average for the years 2012-2016.^^
  15. Reporters Without Borders Report "2013 World Press Freedom Index: Dashed hopes after spring" at accessed 2013 Feb.^^
  16. Walk Free Foundation (2018) .^^
  17. Walk Free Foundation (2018). p2.^^
  18. Lonely Planet (2014). Chapter "Korea, North".^
  19. Thomson (1993). p28.^
  20. McCall (1979). p180.^
  21. Thomson (1993). p166.^
  22. Casely-Hayford (2012). p253.^
  23. Thomson (1993). p31.^
  24. Thomson (1993). p199.^
  25. Thomson (1993). p28-29.^
  26. Klein (2004) .^
  27. Walk Free Foundation (2018). p4.^
  28. Walk Free Foundation (2018). p34-38.^
  29. "What is the Best Country in the World? An Index of Morality, Conscience and Good Life: 2.9. Women Stand for Election & Vote" by Vexen Crabtree (2019)^
  30. Donnelly (2013). Chapter 16 "Nondiscrimination for All: The Case of Sexual Minorities" p278.^
  31. Donnelly (2013). Chapter 16 "Nondiscrimination for All: The Case of Sexual Minorities" p289. According to a 1992 ruling of the Human Rights Committee, which declared that 'it is undisputed that adult consensual sexual activity in private is covered by the concept of privacy' when discussing Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. See Human Rights Committee, Communication 488/1992, paragraph 8.2.^
  32. "What is the Best Country in the World? An Index of Morality, Conscience and Good Life" by Vexen Crabtree (2019)^

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