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North-Korea, The Land of The Ill Fated

While I sit here in the comfort of a truly democratic country, a feeling of dread sweeps through my mind when I think about being born in a country which though officially known as Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, does not even enjoy the D of the word Democratic, where people don’t live but merely survive, where people with perfectly functioning eyes, ears and tongue are as good as those deprived of these senses. Yes, I am talking about North Korea.

FALL OF BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS
Human beings are born with the basic rights of life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education and so on. However, the Kim family of North Korea, which has been sitting on the country’s throne for three generations has been successful in the widespread massacre of these rights all over the country. North Korea has been described as “the most oppressive and authoritarian state in the world”. The supreme leader, Kim Jong Un has suppressed all political opposition, independent media, free trade unions and independent civil society organisations. Over the last few decades, the oppressed country has witnessed arbitrary arrests, torture in custody, forced labour and public execution. A 2017 report by the International Bar Association estimates that the North is holding between 80,000-1,30,000 political prisoners, and these prisoners are being subjected to intense persecution. According to the report, these include “systemic murder (including infanticide), torture, prececution of Christians, rape, forced abortions, starvations and overwork leading to countless deaths”. Officials, the report said, were told to ‘wipe out the seed of (Christian) reactionaries’.

‘Humans are born with an inherent want for freedom’. Over the past few years, many North Koreans have tried to escape the country in search of life. Some managed to acquire their innate freedom while some ended up in prison camps marinated in their own tears and blood. One of the defectors of North Korea expressed her newfound freedom, saying, “ I was shocked by freedom-that I didn’t need permission to do anything. I couldn’t believe there was hot water, hair dryers! I could vote for whoever I wanted. All the food!” Defectors have described the horrific experience of the famine that had hit the country in the mid 1990s. More than a million people died during this famine and many survived by eating grass, bugs and tree bark. Hyeonseo Lee, a defector of North Korea, said in an interview that the conditions were so critical that in a letter from her distant relatives, they described to her family how they had not eaten in over a year and were lying on the floor, waiting to die.

North Korea is a country with unbelievably draconian rules and regulations. There is only one channel on television and there is no internet. People are not free to sing, say, wear or think according to their fancies. It is the only country in the world that executed people for making unauthorised international calls. Yeonmi Park, another defector of North Korea, said in an interview that she was nine years old when she saw her friend’s mother being publicly executed for an action as ordinary as watching a Hollywood movie. She further says that expressing doubts or opinions about the regime can get three generations of a family imprisoned or executed. In the interview, she admits that, in her thirteen year stay in North Korea, she thought that the North Korean dictator could read her mind.

Imagine, one day, you wake up on a different planet and everything you have ever learnt was a lie and your country’s history was fabricated and the people in the country were brainwashed. The heroes of your world were actually monstrous villains. It’s like a plot of a science-fiction novel, but it is an odd reality for North Korean defectors. A typical school in North Korea serves to uplift the respect, prosperity and dominance of the regime. Yeonmi Park described a sample math problem taught in schools as ‘ there are four American scoundrels, if we kill two, how many are left?’ The curriculum in North Korean schools focuses on the Kims. Students spend 648 hours learning about the current leader Kim Jong-Un, his father Kim Jong-il, his grandfather Kim II-sung. North Korea states that the system of education is based on the concept of revolution and endless loyalty towards the party and the supreme leader. The citizens of the country have been deprived of the basic facilities like running water, food and electricity. The lack of electricity is evident from the seemingly Cimmerian land between the glittering countries of China and South Korea.
With these facts in place, we can rightfully say that the regime of North Korea has deprived its citizens of their basic fundamental rights, thus giving it a status of ‘hell on earth’.

EXTREME PATRIARCHY
North Koreans live in a barbaric and savage system of gender relations. Women are subjected to extreme forms of domestic abuse and violence without any hope for escape or justice. The responsibility of feeding starving families is left to women while their husbands spend their income on alcohol.

Sexual violence is a common problem in the army too. Lee So Yeon, a North Korean Defector, briefed in an interview on how women join the army to become a member of the Workers party of Korea, to lead a slightly comfortable life in North Korea. Senior male officials see this as an opportunity to harass young women, threatening to block their chances of joining if they attempt to report the abuse. This testimony accorded with other defectors’ accounts too.

Female soldiers are not allowed to wash or change during their rigorous training and are given wound dressings instead of sanitary napkins. Defectors have described how ordinary female citizens use men’s used vests and socks instead of sanitary napkins.

If women get pregnant unintentionally, they use a range of dangerous abortion methods like tightening of the stomach with army belts, taking anthelmintic medicines or jumping off and rolling down high mountain hills. It is common to find foetuses in army toilets.

When a guard or a police officer picks on a women, she has no choice but to comply with the demands, whether they are sex, money or other favours. 70% of North Korean women and teenage girls are victimised and sometimes sold for as little as $200 in China. Oh Jung-Hee, a former trader in North Korea, interviewed by the Human Rights Watch, described the prevalence of abuse where market guards and police considered them sex toys. Words would never be enough to describe the suffering and injustice that women in North Korea have to go through.

FAILURE OF UNITED NATIONS IN NORTH KOREA
North Korea was admitted as a member of the United Nations in 1991. It is very evident that the United Nations Human Rights Council has failed in liberating the people of North Korea from the inhumane regime. The country has ratified several international human rights treaties but has failed to uphold their principles.

A 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry on North Korea concluded that the regime has committed heinous crimes against humanity including extermination, murder, forced labour, rape and the list goes on. It recommended to the UN Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court. However, the North Korean government routinely denies the allegations and refuses to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul or with Tomas Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur for the special situations of human rights with North Korea.

The United Nations General Assembly and United Nations Human Rights Council has passed countless resolutions to ensure prosecution of North Korean officials responsible for crimes against humanity but like in many other international issues, the United Nations has failed in this endeavour too.

Everyday, North Koreans face all forms of monstrosities and a few words will never be able to describe all their suffering. North Koreans are desperately seeking and dying for freedom at this moment. They want to live as human beings. The regime is routinely spending money on buying, developing and testing nuclear missiles, when 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Are they doing it to protect the citizens or to feed their obese egos? The answer would again be a difficult pill to swallow.

It is true that we are not in the position to free the country from this insanity, but it is said “I can’t fix the world’s problems. But I will do what I can to make a difference where I can”. With this thought in mind, we can take a few steps to help the freedom-seeking North Koreans. We can educate ourselves to raise awareness about the human crisis in North Korea, help and support its refugees who are trying to escape to freedom and petition China to stop repatriation. No human being deserves to be oppressed just because of his birthplace. “Helping one might not change the world but it might change the world for the one person”.

By Sara Mittal
Senior Secondary Student, Loreto School


References: cbsnews.com/news/here-are-north-koreas-alledged-human-rights-abuses/2 borgenproject.org/top-10-facts-about-education-in-north-korea/3 bbc.com/news/stories-417784704 Youtube-PH Radio Podcasts- Yeonmi Park5 hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/north-korea
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