The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Korea, North

By Vexen Crabtree 2019

#homosexuality #north_korea #north_korea_homosexuality

North Korea
Democratic People's Republic of Korea

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Social and Moral Index158th best
Life Expectancy73.28yrs (2017)2

This is a fully totalitarian dictatorship with no pretence to embrace any modern concept of human rights nor personal freedom3,4. N. Korea does worse than average in LGBT equality5 and in speed of uptake of HR treaties6. It sits amongst the bottom 20 in commentary in Human Rights Watch reports7 (amongst the lowest in Asia), its nominal commitment to Human Rights8 and in freethought9 (amongst the worst in Asia). And finally, it is second-from-the-bottom in terms of supporting press freedom10. Of the millions of North Koreans subject to slavery, the "clear majority" are being held in forced labour by the state itself11. 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"12.

1. North Korea's Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance

#equality #gender_equality #human_rights #morals #politics #prejudice #tolerance

Compared to Asia (2020)13
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank13
1Hong Kong24.3
43Myanmar (Burma)128.5
46Saudi Arabia134.5
50N. Korea146.5
Asia Avg99.9
Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance (2020)13
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank13
192Cook Islands144.5
193N. Korea146.5
196Vatican City154.0
World Avg87.9

The best countries in the world at ensuring human rights, fostering equality and promoting tolerance, are Sweden, Norway and Denmark14. These countries are displaying the best traits that humanity has to offer. The worst countries are The Solomon Islands, Somalia and Tuvalu14.

The data sets used to calculate points for each country are statistics on commentary in Human Rights Watch reports, its nominal commitment to Human Rights, speed of uptake of HR treaties, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, supporting press freedom, eliminating modern slavery, opposing gender inequality, the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), the year from which women could participate in democracy, its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice, LGBT equality and freethought. The regions with the best average results per country are Scandinavia, Baltic States and Europe14, whereas the worst are Melanesia, Micronesia and Australasia14.

For more, see:

Amnesty International's 2023-23 summary on human rights in North Korea stated:

Freedom of movement and right to information remained severely restricted due to border closure. [...] People including children were subject to forced labour and some people were forced into state-designated employment. Political prison camps were believed to remain in operation. There were reports that detainees were tortured and otherwise ill-treated.

"The State of the World's Human Rights 2022/23" by Amnesty International (2023)15

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)4

2. Human Rights & Tolerance

2.1. Human Rights Watch Comments


Human Rights Watch Comments
Higher is better7
115=N. Korea-10
115=Congo, DR-10
Asia Avg-5.0
World Avg-1.9
North Korea comes worst in the world in terms of commentary in Human Rights Watch reports.

Human Rights Watch comments concentrate mostly on negative issues, however, they also make positive comments for those countries that engage in human rights defence around the world, or who make improvements at home. By adding up positive and negative comments (including double-points for negatives that involve large scales and crimes against humanity), the Social and Moral Index turns HRW commentary into quantified values. Some countries may be unfairly penalized because HRW have not examined them, and, some countries "get away" with abuses if they manage to hide it, or if it goes unnoticed - a negative point has been given for those countries in which HRW specifically state that access to investigators has been barred. The points were limited to a minimum of -10 because there are some points at which things are so bad, with abuses affecting so many, it is difficult to be more specific about the depths of the issues.

2.2. Nominal Commitment to HR


Nominal Commitment to HR
Higher is better8
2=Costa Rica23
177=N. Korea7
177=Sao Tome & Principe7
181St Lucia6
Asia Avg12.7
World Avg15.1
In terms of its nominal commitment to Human Rights, North Korea is 18th-worst in the world.

There are many international agreements on human rights, and, many mechanisms by which countries can be brought to account for their actions. Together, these have been the biggest historical movement in the fight against oppression and inhumanity. Or, putting it another way: these are rejected mostly by those who wish to oppress inhumanely. None of them are perfect and many people object to various components and wordings, but, no-one has come up with, and enforced, better methods of controlling the occasional desires that states and peoples have of causing angst for other states and peoples in a violent, unjust or inhumane way. Points are awarded for the number of human rights agreements ratified by the country, plus the acceptance of the petition mechanisms for disputes. The maximum possible score in 2009 was 24.

2.3. HR Treaties Lag

#human_rights #international_law #micronesia #politics #small_islands

HR Treaties Lag
Lower is better6
Avg Yrs/Treaty6
175N. Korea14.52
Asia Avg10.97
World Avg10.02
North Korea ranks 21st-worst in the world in terms of speed of uptake of HR treaties.

Human Rights (HR) Treaties Lag is a count of how long it took each country to sign each of 11 key HR treaties. From the date of the first signatory of each treaty, all other countries have one point added to their score for each day they delayed in signing. Results are presented as average time in years to sign each one. The lower a country's score, the more enthusiastically it has taken on international Human Rights Treaties - which are, of course, minimal standards of good governance. The slowest are the countries of Micronesia, Melanesia, Australasia and Polynesia all lagged by over 12 years per treaty. The best regions are The Americas, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

For more, see:

2.4. Press Freedom

#democracy #freedom #Freedom_of_Speech #Good_Governance #mass_media #politics #UK

Press Freedom
Lower is better10
177N. Korea8390
Asia Avg4378
World Avg3249
Regarding supporting press freedom, North Korea ranks 2nd-worst in the world; N. Korea is worst, after .

The freedom to investigate, publish information, and have access to others' opinion is a fundamental part of today's information-driven world, and is linked with Freedom of Speech and Good Governance. Scores on the Press Freedom Index are calculated according to indicators including pluralism - the degree to which opinions are represented in the media, media independence of authorities, self-censorship, legislation, transparency and the infrastructure that supports news and information, and, the level of violence against journalists which includes lengths of imprisonments. The index "does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted". The rankings are used as one of the datasets of the Social and Moral Development Index16

It must be noted that press freedom is not an indicator of press quality and the press itself can be abusive; the UK suffers in particular from a popular brand of nasty reporting that infuses several of its newspapers who are particularly prone to running destructive and often untrue campaigns against victims. The Press Freedom Index notes that "the index should in no way be taken as an indicator of the quality of the media in the countries concerned".

2.5. Slavery

#burundi #eritrea #france #human_rights #indonesia #slavery

Lower is better
% Victims17
161S. Sudan2.05
164Central African Rep.2.23
167N. Korea10.46
Asia Avg0.79
World Avg0.65
North Korea is positioned worst in the world regarding eliminating modern slavery.

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory18. 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' friends19. 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 life20. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves21.

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 slavery22. 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 dignity23. 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.24. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi25, Eritrea25, Indonesia26) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery11.

For more, see:

Of the millions of North Koreans subject to slavery, the "clear majority" are being held in forced labour by the state itself11 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

3. Gender Equality

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)4


3.1. Year Women Can Vote

#christianity #gender_equality #human_rights #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote
Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
58N. Korea1946
Asia Avg1907
World Avg1930
Regarding the year from which women could participate in democracy, North Korea comes 58th in the world.

Women now have equal rights in the vast majority of countries across the world. Although academic literature oftens talks of when a country "grants women the right to vote", this enforces a backwards way of thinking. Women always had the right to vote, however, they were frequently denied that right. The opposition to women's ability to vote in equality with man was most consistently and powerfully opposed by the Catholic Church, other Christian organisations, Islamic authorities and some other religious and secular traditionalists.

For more, see:

4. Prejudice

4.1. LGBT Equality

#equality #homosexuality #human_rights #ICCPR #intolerance #sexuality #tolerance

LGBT Equality
Higher is better
113=N. Korea8
115=Congo, (Brazzaville)5
Asia Avg-02.1
World Avg12.6
North Korea is positioned 112nd in the world when it comes to LGBT equality.

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence29. 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 laws30. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries29. 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.

For more, see:

4.2. Freedom of Thought

#europe #freedom_of_belief #freethought #human_rights #netherlands #religion #religious_tolerance #secularism #the_enlightenment

Freedom of Thought
Lower is better
194=Saudi Arabia5.0
194=N. Korea5.0
Asia Avg3.7
World Avg3.0
North Korea is positioned worst in the world regarding freethought.

Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Belief are upheld in Article 18 the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights31. It affirms that it is a basic human right that all people are free to change their beliefs and religion as they wish32. No countries voted against this (although eight abstained). This right was first recognized clearly in the policies of religious toleration of the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe in the post-enlightenment era33 of the 19th century. In democratic countries, freedom of belief and religion is now taken for granted34. In 2016 a study found that over 180 countries in the world had come to guarantee freedom of religion and belief35. The best countries at doing so are Taiwan, Belgium and The Netherlands9,36 and the worst: Afghanistan, N. Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia9,37.

Long-term studies have shown that religious violence and persecution both decrease in cultures where religious freedom is guaranteed38. Despite this, there still are many who are strongly against freedom of belief32, including entire cultures and many individual communities of religious believers. Their alternative is that you are not free to believe what you want and they often state that you cannot change religion without being punished (often including the death penalty): this is bemoaned as one of the most dangerous elements of religion39 and "the denial of religious freedoms is inevitably intertwined with the denial of other freedoms"40 and the solution is, everywhere, to allow religious freedom and the freedom of belief.

For more, see: