With the world’s eyes on what the recalcitrant communist nation will do next after its failed rocket launch on Friday, Amnesty International says the world should be focusing on the country’s “catastrophic human rights record.”
In a report published Thursday, AI said that the country’s deplorable human rights situation overshadows the country’s rocket launch, which Pyongyang claims is to put a satellite into orbit.
Throughout the rocket launch preparations, North Korea has boasted that putting a satellite into orbit on the anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un, will make it prosperous.
However, as Amnesty highlights, since the 1990s, as 1 million North Koreans have died of starvation and there are numerous reports that millions more are malnourished. Washington and Pyongyang on Feb. 29 came to an agreement that North Korea would stop launching missiles and testing its nuclear capabilities in exchange for desperately needed food aid.
“To achieve a ‘strong and prosperous nation’ North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong Un would have to reverse the repression that has been characteristic of the country for decades,” stated Rajiv Narayan, a Korea expert with Amnesty.
In a report from the Daily NK publication last week, a farm source inside the country’s North Hamkyung Province—the same province that has in the past carried out two nuclear bomb tests—said there is a shortage of able-bodied workers on farms and many young adults are lazy or have been stunted by years of malnourishment.
Young adults between the ages of 17 and 30 —which the source described as “farming shock troops”— who arrived on the source’s farm, were children during the height of the famine. Because of malnutrition, they are between 3-foot 11 inches and 4-foot 3 inches tall, which is far below average, the publication said.
If North Korea were to become prosperous and strong, as it proclaims, it would have to take action to provide food and health care to the entire population, says Amnesty.
The cost of launching the Unha-3 rocket and satellite is about $850 million, according to documents obtained by the Daily Telegraph newspaper. The Telegraph estimates that that amount could feed millions of people.
The documents also show that the $1.14 billion earned in coal exports helped finance the regime’s projects, including $140 million on remodeling 3,000 apartments for elites. Another $50 million was spent on the Rungrado Theme Park.
Amnesty also noted that there are hundreds of thousand of people in labor camps, a claim that was corroborated by the U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, which said between 150,000 and 200,000 are currently imprisoned in secret gulag-like camps. The reports both said prisoners are subjected to horrific conditions and torture.
“These are places out of sight of the rest of the world, where almost the entire range of human rights protections are ignored,” Narayan said.