Special Rapporteur highlights increasing restrictions on access to information

North Korea remains one of the most repressive authoritarian states. According to Human Rights Watch’s most recent annual report, the state intensified repressive measures in 2017, including by tightening domestic restrictions on travel and unauthorised cross-border travel with China. The government also continued to "generate fearful obedience from its citizens through executions, detentions, and forced labor under harsh conditions",

According a news report in February 2018, the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which maps the earth’s surface with data from drones, satellites and other aircraft, is planning to partner with several nonprofit organisations and think tanks to document evidence of human rights violations, such as the existence of mass graves in North Korea. 


On 12th March 2018, the UN Human Rights Council heard an updated report from the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who noted that the state's persistent rejection of the UNSR's mandate remains an obstacle to obtaining information and communicating with the North Korean government. He reported that the main sources of information on human rights continue to be testimonies of those who have fled North Korea as well as research conducted by the UN, civil society and the academic community.

The Special Rapporteur raised concerns in the report over increased restrictions on freedom of thought and conscience and access to information. A woman who practiced divination to earn a living had been imprisoned three times in 2015 and 2016 and tortured for "engaging in an activity deemed contrary to the dominant party ideology". There were also testimonies on state surveillance. Another woman who escaped in 2016 describe efforts to evade state control of her phone, stating that:

“We only turn on our mobile phones when we need to use them. We know that the Ministry of State Security can locate us or eavesdrop on our conversations, so even when we’re at home we don’t make calls; instead, we go to the mountains to find a location that bypasses jamming [by the Government]”.

Separately, the UN Special Rapporteur also encouraged a parallel dialogue with the United Nations on human rights after the announced talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, asserting that:

"I had always stressed that engagement with North Korea should never be underestimated, and also that human rights remain a priority and must not be held hostage to the security situation. In this regard, I urge the DPRK to consolidate the rapprochement with a parallel opening to U.N. human rights monitoring".

An Amnesty International report issued in February 2018 stated that up to 120,000 people remain in detention in the four known political prison camps, and prisoners are subjected to forced labour as well as torture and ill-treatment. Many of those living in the camps were detained arbitrarily for being related to individuals deemed threatening to the state - “guilt-by-association”.