The World Health Organization has released a controversial study claiming that North Korea has the second-highest suicide rate in the world, with almost 10,000 people taking their lives in the oppressive dictatorship in 2012. Many question state statistics, however, as suicide could mean generations of punishment for the family of the deceased.
The study, titled Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, found that suicide was a more prominent cause of death internationally than many conflicts and natural disasters, with one person taking their own lives every 40 seconds. The country with the highest suicide rate in the world is Guyana, closely followed by North Korea and South Korea at a distant third. The WHO reports 9,790 suicides took place in North Korea in 2012.
The report’s extremely high suicide rate recorded for North Korea contradicts previous studies on the matter. A 2013 study by the Unification Medical Center at Seoul National University, for example, found that suicide in North Korea is exceedingly rare due to the threat of punishments upon the family of the person committing suicide that could affect generations of a family. “North Korean media tends to use the high suicide rate in the South as proof to show off the superiority of their social system, and they barely mention North Koreans taking their own lives,” explained professor Park Sang-min, who led the study.
The Guardian explains that the nation’s oppressive atmosphere and severe food shortages could have triggered a change in the number of suicide cases in the communist nation. The World Health Organization itself explains that “it had arrived at its North Korean estimate by factoring in a range of statistically predictive factors,” The Guardian notes, and suggested that poverty and psychological stress could be driving up the numbers.
The Guardian suggested one other possibility for the increase in suicide rates in this latest study: the government designating deaths occurring while individuals were in state custody as “suicides,” to lower the number of people who died while in government hands. “It might be like in East Germany under the Stasi, where if someone died during an interrogation or while detained they just called it a suicide,” Sokeel Park, director of research and strategy at Liberty in North Korea, told The Guardian.
North Korea is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, accused by multiple international outlets of crimes against humanity and severe human rights violations, including mass starvation and violent abuses in “reform” labor camps. In addition to accusations of unspeakable crimes committed against its own people, North Korea remains among the most belligerent of the world’s rogue nations. This week, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported they have evidence that Pyongyang may be running a nuclear reactor, despite strong international resistance against North Korea’s communist regime wielding nuclear power.