Rape ‘part of ordinary life’ in North Korea

Saul Bowman
November 4, 2018

Several traders also described male officials at checkpoints conducting intrusive body searches of young women.

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed more than 50 escapees from the secretive nuclear-armed state to provide a rare insight into the widespread sexual violence there.

The #MeToo movement has pushed for an end to sexual abuses around the world, but HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said there appears to be little progress in North Korea, despite economic reforms and a stated intention to modernise the country under leader Kim Jong Un's authoritarian government.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said at a news conference last week that he was "very concerned" about the absence of a human rights agenda in key statements after Kim's separate summit meetings with President Jae-in Moon of South Korea and US President Donald Trump.

Interviewees told the human rights group that government officials harmed them while they were in detention centers. Roth called it "the most extensive study ever done of sexual violence in North Korea".

Signs of change came last June, when the Constitutional Court objected to the country's practice of imprisoning conscientious objectors and said it was unconstitutional they weren't given any options such as civilian service.

A participant in the study, Oh Jung Hee, told researchers she had been sexually assaulted numerous times.

"Market guards or police officials would ask me to follow them to an empty room outside the market, or some other place they'd pick", said a former trader in her 40s.


The study says that abuse is rarely reported because the government does not adequately investigate or prosecute, nor does it do anything to protect survivors, all while claiming that such abuse does not occur at all in North Korea.

She clarified that "men in power" extends to almost anyone within the system, from soldiers to guards to party officials.

"Ironically, numerous women who are at the center of the economic opening that Kim says he cares about are the most at risk", Roth said. "You find it in nearly every part of life", Daly said.

North Korea is preparing its Punggye-ri nuclear test site for global inspectors, Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday, citing South Korea's spy agency.

Leaders of the two Koreas announced during the third inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, North Korea in September that Kim will make a return visit to Seoul within this year, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

North Korean refugees say sexual violence against women in their former homeland is part of daily life.

The dovish South Korean president has long favoured engagement with the North, which is subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

But under President Moon Jae-in, who was elected a year ago, South Korea appears to be building bridges with its northern neighbor. "If the agreements are well carried out, it will contribute to not only the improvement of inter-Korean relations and peace settlement on the Korean peninsula but also the improvement of human rights of North Korean people", the message said. The Korean language in the North relies on a host of euphemisms that often downplay the severity of the act.

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