Residents protest failure to deliver on housing in Ryanggang Province

Peaceful assembly

Hyaesan residents protest broken promises on housing

Despite the strict prohibition on independent gatherings, there was a protest recently that occurred in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province. According to a report by DailyNK news outlet, on 6th November 2018, local residents began to protest after promises made to them around their housing failed to materialise.

According to the report, a construction company received permission from the local authorities (People’s Committee) to demolish a number of houses with yards and build a nine-story apartment at the site. The company promised residents of the demolished homes that they would have priority in moving into the new apartments once construction was finished, in exchange for them providing building materials from their houses, construction site labour and contributions to the overall construction costs.

However, the authorities have reneged on the promises and officials of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) are instead moving into the new apartments. The evicted families were instead ordered to move to alternative housing which is still under construction. The local residents have since been living in tents just outside the city.

According to DailyNK, the residents went as a group to the petitions department at the municipal People’s Committee to protest. The residents have reportedly threatened to report the case to the Central Party if the local People’s Committee does not address the issue.


Soldier jailed for criticising military and the workers party

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, North Korea is one of the world’s most repressive states and civic space is ‘closed’. The government restricts all civil and political liberties for its citizens, including freedom of expression, and media outlets are formed and controlled by the state.

According to a recent report on 13th November 2018, a soldier was imprisoned for complaining about military service, the state of military affairs and the policies of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). Private Ri, who served in Kanggye, Changgang Province, was arrested and detained after his comments were reported to the Ministry of State Security. He has been sentenced to a year prison in a ‘disciplinary labour center’. The North Korean authorities regularly conduct surveillance over ordinary residents, but soldiers and party officials are monitored at a much higher level.

Students arrested for watching South Korean film

On 30th October 2018, it was reported that investigations are still ongoing in the case of seven middle school students who were arrested for watching a South Korean movie in July 2018 and that the students’ parents were recently questioned.

According to the report, the North Korean government uses a squad known as Group 109 to conduct regular censorship on external media. Part of its duty is to crack down on video players and police officers responsible for their district can arbitrarily make arrests. Video players are frequently confiscated and if foreign films are found, the police deal with them and hand out punishment.

The North Korean authorities take the act of “distributing” South Korean movies, songs, and broadcasts very seriously and are focusing on stopping the spread of Hallyu (Korean cultural content) among the population.


China blocks UN Security Council meeting on North Korea

According to reports on 8th December 2018, China blocked a UN Security Council meeting, requested by the US, on North Korea's human rights record. North Korea had written to council members in November 2018 to urge them to block the US request for the meeting.

The US has, every year since 2014, garnered the nine votes needed at the council to hold the meeting, despite opposition from China. This year, there are reports that China leaned heavily on Ivory Coast, the critical ninth vote. China, which has strong expanding ties in Africa, has argued that the Security Council is not the venue to discuss human rights as a threat to international peace and security.

Previously, on 15th November 2018, the UN General Assembly's human rights committee approved a resolution by consensus condemning North Korea's "longstanding and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights" and strongly urging its government to immediately end the abuses.

The resolution, co-sponsored by the European Union and Japan expresses deep concern "at the grave human rights situation, the pervasive culture of impunity and the lack of accountability for human rights violations” in North Korea. The resolution expressed "very serious concern" at persistent reports of rights violations, including findings of the U.N. commission of inquiry on North Korea in 2014. The resolution cited torture, "inhuman conditions of detention," rape, public executions, the death penalty for political and religious reasons, political prison camps for "a vast number of persons" and pervasive restrictions on freedom of thought, religion, expression, assembly and movement.