North Korea’s so-called dear leader, Kim Jong-Il, should be remembered as his country celebrates his birthday on February 16, 2015, for presiding over one of the world’s most brutal and repressive governments, Human Rights Watch said.
“Kim Jong-Il ruled North Korea based on rights abuses, repression, and ruthlessness and prioritized maintaining his power over the welfare of the people, even as the country was facing widespread starvation,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director.
“Unfortunately, his son Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s new leader, has continued many of his father’s abusive policies without pause.”
Kim Jong-Il took over the country in 1994 after the death of his father, Kim Il-Sung, who had ruled North Korea since 1948. His economic mismanagement combined with natural disasters forced the country into what later became known as the Arduous March, a severe famine that provoked despair and massive starvation. Kim Jong-Il and his government focused on a policy ofsongun (military first), which allocated the country’s remaining scarce resources and food to the Korean People’s Army. Kim Jong-Il ensured that the military and government elites were least affected while a still unknown number of North Koreans – estimates range from several hundred thousand to 3.5 million – died of starvation between 1994 and 1998, the most acute phase of the crisis.
Kim Jong-Il’s rights-abusing legacy also includes a massive system of kwanliso (gulag-like political prison camps) to instill fear among the people. Between 80,000 and 120,000 North Koreans are estimated to still be in kwanliso, which are characterized by systemic abuse and deadly conditions, including torture and sexual abuse by guards, near-starvation rations, back-breaking forced labor in dangerous conditions, and executions.
“The world should remember Kim Jong-Il’s brutality and his government’s horrific record of rights abuse, which only now has finally reached the international community’s agenda,” Robertson said. “The world needs to show North Korea that these serious human rights abuses will not go unpunished, and that there needs to be justice for these actions.”