New Zealand is concerned by the human rights situation in the DPRK and has spoken out on the matter in international fora. The DPRK has ratified international covenants and conventions on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the Rights of the Child (CRC); and the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but has shown scant regard for the commitments entailed. However, the UN has adopted resolutions co-sponsored by New Zealand declaring deep concern at reports of systemic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights in the DPRK each year since 2003. The UN mandated a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK in 2004, but no Rapporteur has yet been allowed into the country.
Among the problems highlighted by the UN and non-governmental organisations are restrictions on the right to life and individual liberty; freedom of religion; freedom of the press and expression; freedom of assembly and association; and the status of women. North Koreans are closely watched by authorities. Reception on radios and television sets is restricted to government broadcasts with the Korean Central News Agency the sole news distributor. Internal travel is strictly controlled and foreign travel limited to government officials, sporting teams, and trusted performers. Defectors claim the DPRK detains as many as 200,000 people suspected of political crimes in forced labour camps where they suffer ill‑treatment and sometimes torture or execution.
The DPRK strongly rejects all reports of human rights violations, accusing defectors of promoting an anti-North agenda and of a United States-led attempt to isolate and destabilize the regime. The DPRK states that any human rights discussion must respect the United Nations Charter principles of non-interference with internal affairs, as well as sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The 2012 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea described “a wide range of human rights violations.” Among the abuses documented by Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman were the alleged “extensive use of political prison camps, poor prison conditions and prisoners being subjected to forced labor, torture and corporal punishment.” This criticism was rejected by the DPRK United Nations delegation, with representative Kim Song saying “We have nothing to hide. We have nothing to be afraid of. On the contrary, we are proud of our superior system of promoting and protecting human rights in our country, including free medical care and free education system. We will further develop and strengthen our social system that guarantees promotion and protection of human rights.” The North Korean envoy said Darusman’s allegations were based on “distortions and falsity.” “We neither recognize nor accept the mandate of the special rapporteur appointed by a resolution against the DPRK,” Kim said. “This is our principled position and it will not change in the future.”
In 2013, former Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby told the United Nations of “unspeakable atrocities” inflicted on political camp prisoners in North Korea, citing testimony from survivors in a landmark commission of inquiry into North Korea. “Testimony heard thus far points to widespread and serious violations in all areas,” Mr Kirby told the UN Human Rights Council. “The commission listened to political prison camp survivors who suffered through childhoods of starvation and unspeakable atrocities, as a product of the ‘guilt by association’ practice, punishing other generations for a family member’s perceived political views or affiliation,” he said. North Korean diplomat Kim Yong Ho responded, telling the council the evidence was “fabricated and invented by forces hostile” to his country, singling out Washington, Tokyo and Brussels.
The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted public hearings in Seoul (20-24 August 2013) and Tokyo (29-30 August 2013) during which over 60 victims and witnesses of human rights violations as well as experts provided testimony on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The schedule of the public hearings can be found here.