|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, behind the podium, speaks during a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang, Feb. 27, to discuss rural issues, in this photo released by the North's Korean Central Agency the following day. Yonhap|
By Lee Hyo-jin
Extrajudicial executions, torture and state censorship of expression and media are some of the commonplace human rights violations in North Korea, according to a report unveiled by the South Korean Ministry of Unification, Thursday.
It is the first time Seoul has disclosed its annual report on human rights issues in Pyongyang to the public, a move that is expected to infuriate North Korea. The dictatorial regime is highly sensitive to criticism from the outside world about its human rights issues.
Based on the North Korean Human Rights Act, which was amended in 2016 and is aimed at documenting human rights abuses of the dictatorial regime, the unification ministry has been compiling the annual report since 2018. But the previous liberal Moon Jae-in administration (2017-2022) had classified the reports as confidential data, citing privacy reasons of North Korean defectors who gave interviews.
The newly published 450-page report by the incumbent Yoon Suk Yeol administration features in-depth interviews with 508 North Korean defectors from 2017 to 2022, who had witnessed or experienced serious human rights violations while living there.
According to the report, North Korea carries out public executions of people accused of drug offenses, distribution of South Korean videos or engaging in religious activities. The regime also carried out the secret execution of a homosexual man in 2014 and a woman who was accused of prostitution in 2013.
Women and children were more susceptible to violence, with the execution of minors and pregnant women having been reported. The reclusive regime has also subjected women in detention to inhumane conditions that include torture, forced labor, sexual violence and starvation.
The unification ministry said it has identified a total of 11 political prison camps with five currently in operation.
The ministry explained that it wrote the report based on recent human rights violation cases in a "balanced and objective manner." It plans to distribute printed versions of the report to state-run think tanks and public libraries, and will also publish an English version for international organizations.
"The report reflects the government's determination to put more effort into practically improving human rights in North Korea," Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said, stressing that the report is not aimed at accusing Pyongyang but at finding feasible solutions to address the issue.
The report was unveiled to the media two days after Yoon ordered the ministry to fully disclose human rights issues in North Korea to the international community, calling the move a "fundamental roadmap to security and unification."