North Koreans face a daily struggle to make ends meet due to a “vicious cycle of deprivation, corruption and repression”, a new United Nations human rights report says.
The report also accuses Kim Jong-un’s government of economic mismanagement, leaving its people fighting to get the basics. Everyday survival is further hampered by officials demanding bribes, it adds. The report is based on interviews carried out with 214 defectors in 2017 and 2018.
It notes that the collapse of the state-run distribution system in the 1990s has forced an estimated three-quarters of the population to turn to informal markets as everyday rations are no longer enough to survive. But the markets exist in a legal grey area, which leaves people vulnerable to officials wanting bribes.
“I am concerned that the constant focus on the nuclear issue continues to divert attention from the terrible state of human rights for many millions of North Koreans,” Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. “The rights to food, health, shelter, work, freedom of movement and liberty are universal and inalienable, but in North Korea they depend primarily on the ability of individuals to bribe state officials.”
North Korea responded angrily to the allegations laid out in the report. “Such reports are nothing more than fabrication…as they are always based on the so-called testimonies of ‘defectors’ who provide fabricated information to earn their living or are compelled to do so under duress or enticement,” its Geneva mission told Reuters news agency.