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Report on Human Rights Abuses or Censorship in North Korea

January 11, 2017


Report on Human Rights Abuses or Censorship in North Korea
Prepared by: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Submitted in compliance with: Section 304 (a) of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, Public Law 114-122, enacted on February 18, 2016


Report on Human Rights Abuses and Censorship in North Korea

Section 304 (a) of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, Public Law 114-122, enacted on February 18, 2016, requires that the Secretary of State provide a report to Congress that: (1) identifies each person the Secretary determines to be responsible for serious human rights abuses or censorship in North Korea and describes the conduct of that person; and (2) describes serious human rights abuses or censorship undertaken by the Government of North Korea or any person acting for or on behalf of that Government in the most recent year ending before the submission of the report. The report is being submitted to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on Financial Services, and the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, and the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate.

Serious human rights abuses committed by the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) include those involving extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, and prolonged arbitrary detention, as well as rape, forced abortions, and other sexual violence. Many of these abuses are committed in the country’s political prison camps (kwanliso), which hold an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners, including children and family members of the accused. The government also maintains an extensive system of forced labor through its rigid controls over workers and restricts the exercise of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, religion or belief, and movement.

There is no independent media in the country; all media is strictly censored and no deviation from the official government line is tolerated. The government allows no editorial freedom; all stories are centrally directed and reviewed to ensure that they are in line with the state ideology. The government also controls academic and cultural content. Authorities prohibit listening to foreign media broadcasts and take steps to jam foreign radio broadcasts. Various ministries are responsible for modifying television and radio equipment to prevent users from accessing material from overseas and other material deemed illegal by the government. Individuals accused of viewing foreign films are reportedly subject to imprisonment or even execution.

On July 6, 2016, the Department of State submitted the first biannual report to Congress identifying persons determined by the Secretary of State to be responsible for serious human rights abuses or censorship in North Korea and containing an Annex listing associated entities and officials. All of the entities and individuals listed in the July 6 report have been designated for sanctions and added to the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list.

This report details aspects of the human rights situation in North Korea and the conduct of persons the Secretary of State has determined to be responsible for the commission of serious human rights abuses or censorship in the DPRK.

Kim Won Hong is the Minister of State Security. In this capacity, he oversees the Ministry of State Security (MSS). He served on the National Defense Commission (NDC) and serves on its successor commission. In the July 6, 2016, report, the Department of State identified the MSS and the NDC as responsible for serious human rights abuses and censorship. [1] According to the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in DPRK report (COI), the MSS is implicated in “widespread gross human rights violations.” It administers the country’s network of political prison camps, where, according to defector testimony and satellite imagery, summary executions and torture are commonplace. The COI found that inhumane acts perpetrated in the DPRK’s political prison camps occur on a large scale and follow a regular pattern giving rise to the inference that they form part of an overarching State policy. Given the highly centralized and hierarchical nature of the North Korean government and Kim’s status as Minister of State Security, it appears that Kim plays a role directing the abuses perpetrated by the MSS and managing its day-to-day activities, including in the political prison camp system, where serious human rights abuses are reportedly systematized as a matter of State policy.

Kim Won Hong directs the operations of the interagency task force, which is responsible for censorship in North Korea, including confiscating digital devices and information from foreign sources. NGOs report that, in some instances, individuals caught carrying contraband movies into the country face harsh punishments meted out by this task force, which include sentencing to political prison camps and, in some instances, public execution. As the interagency Director of this task force, Kim Won Hong directly commands its operations.

Kim Il-nam is the Chief of the South Hamgyong Province branch of the MSS. According to reports, in this capacity, Kim Il-nam is involved in the management of the Yodok political prison camp, which is located in that province and operated by MSS officials. Defectors and former guards consistently report that beatings and other abuse are a daily occurrence at the Yodok political prison camp. Women who became pregnant in the camp were reportedly beaten until the pregnancy was aborted or were forced to watch the infanticide of their newborn children. Prisoners, including children, were reportedly forced to work without compensation for 12-14 hours a day, six or seven days a week.

Kim Yo Jong is the Vice Director of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD), which controls all media produced in the country. In the July 6, 2016, report, the Department of State identified the PAD as responsible for censorship; further, it maintains oppressive information control and is responsible for indoctrinating the people of the DPRK.[2] South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that Kim Yo Jong manages the day-to-day operations of the PAD.

Choe Hwi is a First Vice Director of the PAD. He is one of three vice directors and reports directly to the Director. In his capacity as First Vice Director of the PAD, Choe Hwi has reportedly been responsible for maintaining ideological purity and managing the general censorship functions of the PAD.

Min Byong Chul is the Director of the Inspection Division of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s (WPK) Organization and Guidance Department (OGD) and serves as an OGD Vice Director. The OGD, a Party oversight body, is possibly the most powerful organization inside the DPRK. As noted in the Department of State’s July 6, 2016, report, the OGD is instrumental in implementing the DPRK’s censorship policies. When a party official deviates from the official message in public remarks, the OGD will dispatch an official to monitor a self-criticism session. The OGD also assumes oversight responsibilities over organizations undergoing party audits to inspect for ideological discipline.[3]

As the OGD’s Inspection Division Director, Min Byong Chul oversees and personally conducts investigations of high-profile cases in which any activities within the WPK do not conform to the Supreme Leader’s guidance and expectations. He has the reputation within the WPK as the “angel of death” for his reported record of directing political inspections and purges of disloyal party members. In North Korea, purges often take the form of imprisonment, banishment, or executions conducted without due process. In addition, family members and associates of purged officials are rounded up and sent to political prison camps without trial.

Jo Yong Won is a Vice Director of the OGD. According to press reports, the South Korean National Intelligence Service identified Jo Yong Won as an OGD officer handling work on censorship. In addition, as part of his responsibilities, Jo Yong Won reportedly communicates and implements Kim Jong Un’s policy decisions and oversees cadre criticism sessions and ideological indoctrination meetings.

Kang Pil Hun is the Director of the General Political Bureau in the Ministry of People’s Security (MPS), which was identified in the Department of State’s July 6, 2016, report as responsible for serious human rights abuses and censorship. The Director of the General Political Bureau reports directly to the Minister of the MPS and to the OGD and supervises 10 departments. As Director of the General Political Bureau, Kang Pil Hun is responsible for directing the policy of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces, a sub-agency within the MPS responsible for riot suppression, border control, and other internal policing functions that reportedly conducts extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and torture. According to reports, the General Political Bureau is the main authority within the MPS that works to ensure that WPK policies, which reinforce the Suryong (“Supreme Leader”) leadership, are enforced. Given the highly centralized and hierarchical nature of the North Korean government and Kang Pil Hun’s status as Director of the General Political Bureau, it appears that Kang Pil Hun supervises and enforces MPS officials’ compliance with the Supreme Leader’s policy directives. These directives include the DPRK border control policy, under which people are physically prevented from, and at times killed, trying to leave the country. These practices represent a serious abuse of the right to leave any country, and raise serious concerns about arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings. Such directives, whose implementation is carefully monitored and enforced by the General Political Bureau, also include practices enforced in State-run detention facilities, where torture and other forms of abuse, including forced abortions, sexual assault, summary executions, and beatings, are reportedly systematized as a matter of State policy.

The State Planning Commission (SPC) formulates a labor allocation plan and bases a North Korean citizen’s occupation based on both family background (songbun) and the regime’s labor requirements. While the SPC formulates the labor allocation plan, the Ministry of Labor is responsible for assigning workers to individual enterprises under the guidance of the SPC. The two institutions work hand-in-hand to implement an economic system that relies on forced labor in the DPRK and is part of the SPC and Ministry of Labor’s method of mobilizing and using forced labor for purposes of economic development.

The regime allocates labor to the coal and mining industries, forcing individuals to work in these sectors to contribute to policy directives, thus creating a state policy of forced labor. In addition, many of those compelled to participate in the system of forced labor are not compensated, creating a system of slave labor that the SPC and the Ministry of Labor jointly oversee.

Groups from a low songbun, a state-directed social status passed down from parent to child and established as a result of perceived political reliability and loyalty to the regime, are forced to work in mines in extremely harsh environments. Due to their low social status, these individuals, including children, are unable to move to a different sector or occupation. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that everyone has the right to free choice of employment and to just and favorable conditions of work. A South Korean NGO recently released video footage of children as young as five forced to carry out heavy labor in dangerous conditions, including work on railroad lines and in coal mines. The Constitution of the DPRK prohibits child labor, and Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which the DPRK is a State Party, recognizes the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous. In its last report on the DPRK, the CRC Committee stated that children allegedly engage in work which is physically highly demanding, and it asked the DPRK to take urgent measures to address exploitative forms of child labor, including an explicit prohibition on employment of children under 18 in hazardous work. CRC Article 2 also prohibits discrimination against children of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parents’ social origin or political opinion.

Through the combined efforts of the SPC and the Ministry of Labor, the government compels lower-class North Koreans to join paramilitary forced labor brigades that essentially serve as slave labor for the regime. According to Human Rights Watch, these brigades work extended periods of time without pay. They are often forced to work up to 14 hours a day, six or seven days a week with no compensation. Defectors have reported that managers would physically abuse individuals who failed to report to work. In addition, failure to report to an assigned job can result in imprisonment in a forced labor camp for six months to two years.



[1] For an overview of the MSS and the National Defense Commission, see the July 2016 Report on Human Rights Abuses and Censorship in North Korea.

[2] For an overview of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, see the July 2016 Report on Human Rights Abuses and Censorship in North Korea.

[3] For an overview of the Organization and Guidance Department, see the July 2016 Report on Human Rights Abuses and Censorship in North Korea.



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