North Korea’s Slavery and Oppression Targeted in New Report

North Korea’s Slavery and Oppression Targeted in New Report
Laborers work on in Pyongyang on July 29, 2013. North Korea’s widespread use of slave labor is targeted in the State Department's latest report on the regime’s abuses of North Koreans. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)
Matthew Little
The names of North Korea’s various agencies and ministries take on an Orwellian bent in the State Department’s latest biannual report, released Oct. 26.

Every six months the secretary of state has to report to Congress on individuals and activities that seriously violate the basic rights of North Koreans.

Thursday’s report takes aim at several individuals and the entities they work for have an ironic clash between their names and what they do.

The Military Security Command (MSC) works under the Ministry of State Security helping to ensure that average North Koreans feel perennially insecure by sniffing out anyone with questionable loyalties toward the regime.

Technically, the MSC is supposed to monitor the activities and political loyalties of DPRK military officers, but its broad investigative powers extend to average citizens in its ongoing effort to uncover anyone with anti-party or anti-state inclinations.

“Witnesses have stated that the MSC extracts information through torture and those accused of political crimes can be executed without trial,” reads the State Department’s report.

The MSC also operates special prison camps where military personnel are held indefinitely without trial for political offenses.

And running the MSC is Jo Kyong Chol, one of North Korea’s so-called angels of death.

The State Department used the phrase in its previous report as well, in reference to a different man heading the innocuously titled Inspection Division of the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD).

That man, Min Byong Chul, oversees and personally conducts investigations of high-profile individuals in North Korea’s ruling Workers Party, directing purges of disloyal party members, often sending them to prison or execution without a trial.

He also rounds up their family members, sending them to political prison camps without trial, a practice the North Korean regime uses to instil deep fear into any would-be dissenters.

This new report a says that Jo as another “angel of death” leads abuses within North Korea’s defense-industrial complex.

Like Min, Jo has also played a central role directing purges and rounding up the targets’ family members for imprisonment.

Jo’s deputy at the MSC is Sin Yong Il, whose main job is to keep watch over the regime’s censorship effort, is also sanctioned in the new report.

Beyond censorship, Sin oversees the kidnapping North Koreans abroad who are suspected of seeking asylum.

North Koreans that disappear from South Korea number in the hundreds. Some are known to have returned to North Korea, but for many it is not known if it was voluntary. Most go overeas. Some just disappear.

The state department also singles out the Department of Labor, which is known to manage the regime’s unpaid workforce.

The state department sanctioned Jong Yong Su, North Korea’s minister of labor for working with the State Planning Commission “to implement an economic system based on forced labor.”

That effort includes forced labor brigades that work without pay for up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week.

As sanctions cut off much of North Korea’s goods trade, it becomes more dependent on its rented workers and the State Department singled out Kim Kang Jin, the director of the External Construction Bureau, for his role in North Korea’s slave trade.

The bureau manages the construction firms that send laborers from North Korea to work in countries across the world.

These workers face dangerous work conditions and squalor with most of their pay being repatriated back to the regime and the rest being pilfered by their on-site managers.

The State Department describes them as “state-sponsored slaves,” and names Kim responsible for the policies that keep them that way.