Women in North Korea are routinely subjected to sexual violence by government officials, prison guards, interrogators, police, prosecutors and soldiers, according to a new report, with groping and unwanted advances a part of daily life for women working in the country’s burgeoning black markets.
The widespread nature of abuse by North Korean officials was documented in a new report by Human Rights Watch that interviewed 54 people who fled North Korea since 2011, the year North Korean leader Kim Jong-un came to power.
It took more than two years to amass the stories collected in the report, with subjects interviewed in countries across Asia.
Men in power operate with impunity and “when a guard or police officer ‘picks’ a woman, she has no choice but to comply with any demands he makes, whether for sex, money or other favors,” the report said.
Human rights abuses in North Korea have been extensively documented and the UN estimates that between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are detained in four large political prison camps in North Korea.
A landmark UN report detailed cases of “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”
However, women remain particularly vulnerable in a country where the police, market inspectors and soldiers are predominantly male.
While Kim has pledged to focus more on developing North Korea’s economy, the black markets that have become a vital source of income for many families are one place where sexual violence is rampant.
Oh Jung-hee, a trader interviewed by Human Rights Watch, described the prevalence of abuse where market guards and police “considered us [sex] toys.”
“It happens so often nobody thinks it is a big deal,” she said.
“We don’t even realize when we are upset, but we are human and we feel it. So sometimes, out of nowhere, you cry at night and don’t know why,” she said.
Many women expressed a sense that the abuse they endured was so normalized almost no one thought to file a complaint against the perpetrators.
Only one woman reported her case to the police, with others saying the police would not have acted.
Many women are sexually assaulted after they are caught trying to cross into China, for work or sometimes to flee the North.
Park Young-hee, a farmer, was sent back to North Korea after she was caught by Chinese police, and during her interrogation she said the policeman “made me sit very close to him and touched me over my clothes and underneath. He also touched me between the legs and put his fingers inside of me several times during different days.”
She felt her life was in danger and her fate in the hands of the interrogator, and felt she had no choice but to answer his sometimes sexually explicit questions.
North Korea attempts to portray itself as a socialist paradise free of crime, and in a submission to the UN last year said only five people were convicted of rape in 2015 and seven in 2011.
However, the Human Rights Watch report paints a different picture. Eight women who were former prisoners said they experienced “sexual, verbal and physical abuse” at the hands of authorities.
“After this report, North Korea can’t say sexual violence doesn’t exist, so they have to either change their tune or fix the problem,” Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said. “Kim Jong-un could stop this; he could enforce the laws North Korea already has on the books.”
HONG KONG SECURITY: The president blasted regulations requiring Taiwanese agents or political organizations to provide information on their Hong Kong-related activities President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday warned of countermeasures should controversial Chinese national security legislation imposed on Hong Kong undermine or harm Taiwanese interests. Article 43 of the legislation empowers the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to serve written notices to Taiwanese political organizations or individual agents to furnish information on their Hong Kong-related activities, including their personal particulars, finances, assets, expenditure and capital in the territory. Failure to comply or providing false or incomplete information can result in a fine of HK$100,000 (US$12,903) or imprisonment of six months or two years respectively. Tsai said that Taiwan would keep a close watch on how
PROBE LAUNCHED: An officer who served as a supervisor in the drill died in an apparent suicide after the accident, which was caused by unexpected waves Two marines who were on Friday injured in a military exercise in the waters off Kaohsiung passed away yesterday, Navy Command said. The marines — surnamed Tsai (蔡), 26, and a sergeant surnamed Chen (陳), 36 — were in a seven-member Marine Corps team that encountered rough seas during a simulated response to enemy forces landing on Taiwan. Their rubber craft overturned in waters off Taoziyuan (桃子園) beach in Zuoying District (左營), injuring four of the marines. They were rushed to hospital, where three of them — Tsai, Chen and a 34-year-old sergeant — were taken to an intensive care unit
MORAL COURAGE: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged the global community to face China’s intention to subdue Taiwan and reject such irrational requests The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday strongly condemned the Chinese government for meddling with US officials’ interactions with Taiwan after FBI Director Christopher Wray revealed China’s efforts to discourage US officials from visiting Taiwan. The greatest long-term threat to the US’ information security and intellectual property, as well as its economic vitality, is China’s counterintelligence and economic espionage operations, Wray told a video event at the Hudson Institute in Washington. Beijing is engaged in a highly sophisticated and maligning foreign influence campaign, with methods that include bribery, blackmail and covert deals, he said. Giving an example, Wray said that when a US official
‘SIGNAL TO ALLIES’: The US Navy’s exercises are not in response to those carried out by China, the commander of the strike group led by the USS ‘Ronald Reagan’ said Two US aircraft carriers were yesterday conducting exercises in the disputed South China Sea, the US Navy said as China also carried out military drills that have been criticized by the US Department of Defense and neighboring states. China and the US have accused each other of stoking tension in the waterway at a time of strained relations over everything from COVID-19 to trade to Hong Kong. The USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan were carrying out operations and exercises in the South China Sea “to support a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the navy said in a statement. It did not say exactly