Women who attempt to cross the border and forcibly repatriated to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are subjected to torture, sexual abuse, ill treatment and other violations, according to a UN Human Rights report.
The report is based on a firsthand account of over 100 women who were interviewed by Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that it was heartbreaking to read the stories of women who fled their country looking to make ends meet, but who ended up being punished. “These women have a right to justice, truth and reparation,” she said.
The report said that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea punished the women for having left their country without permission, detained in inhumane conditions and subjected to torture and ill-treatment. None of them benefit from essential protections such as the right to a fair trial and adequate access to food. Some are victims of different forms of sexual violence, including rape, forced nudity, invasive body searches and forced abortions. There have been cases of new born babies stripped from their mothers and killed, the report said.
The report said that the women on return are detained and sentenced to imprisonment, often without a trial, or after proceedings that do not meet international standards. Te women who return are often labelled as “traitors”.
The report quotes a woman who had escaped to China recounting her harrowing experience.
“I was beaten with a club by a preliminary investigation officer and was kicked by the officer. The treatment was particularly harsh at the Ministry of State Security. If one is found to have gone to a South Korean church while staying in China, they are dead. I therefore tried hard not to reveal my life in China. I was beaten up as a result. I was beaten to a level that my rib was broken. I still feel the pain,” she said.
Inhumane conditions, malnutrition and death
The report notes that women are imprisoned in inhumane and unsanitary conditions. These women had little or no access to daylight and fresh air, insufficient food and were denied access to facilities and items required for women’s specific hygiene needs. Some of the women also had irregularities with their menstrual cycles as they were malnourished,.
“During my time in prison about five to six people died. Most of them died due to malnutrition,” one woman told UN Human Rights staff.
Detainees were regularly beaten or otherwise tortured, including for failing to complete the hard manual labour assigned to them.
Forced nudity, invasive searches
The report said that women were subjected to forced nudity and invasive body searches. The report also points out to sexual violence by guards, It also said that prison officials sought to cause pregnant detainees to abort, either by beating them or making them do hard labour.
Un Human Rights Chief Bachelet said that all these showed the systemic nature of human rights violations in the DPRK and the need to keep seeking pathways to proper accountability for such crimes.
The UN Human Rights has called for bringing the detention system into line with international norms and standards. It also said that the government should ensure that all citizens are guaranteed the fundamental right to enter and leave the DPRK, and that anyone returned or repatriated there is not subjected to imprisonment or other punishment.
They also asked other countries not to repatriate North Koreans if there are substantial grounds for believing they would face serious human rights violations.