Extricating North Korea from the personality cult of the Kim family would be a genuine challenge under any circumstances.
The country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, permeate every facet of daily life. Citizens wear Kim lapel pins everywhere they go. Portraits and statuary of the father and son are everywhere. In Pyongyang at midnight every night, a ghostly dirge commemorating the elder Kim blares from loudspeakers through the darkness.
According to the U.N. commission’s findings and the testimony of many defectors, North Koreans who dare criticize the Kim family are punished severely and face horrific treatment in prison camps around the country.
North Korea says that isn’t true, and routinely accuses defectors of being “human scum” and criminals. In an interview with the AP in Pyongyang last October, two North Korean legal experts attempted to discredit the U.N. campaign and its findings “which they called an “anti-DPRK plot” and defended the prison system that has long been the core area of concern.
“In a word, the political camps do not exist in our country,” said Ri Kyong Chol, director of the international law department at Pyongyang’s Academy of Social Sciences. “The difference between the common and the anti-state criminals is that the anti-state criminals get more severe punishment than the common criminals.”
But Ri said common and anti-state inmates are not segregated. “I think every country has prisons to imprison those criminals who have committed crimes against the state,” he said. But in North Korea, “there are no different prisons for that.”