Chosun Ilbo, a conservative-leaning South Korean newspaper, reports Wednesday that a prominent think tank’s annual review of the human rights situation in North Korea has received no press promotion, “apparently for fear that any widely publicized criticism of the North here could agitate the regime and jeopardize the détente.”
The Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) publishes an annual white paper detailing the extensive human rights abuses that the communist regime of dictator Kim Jong-un perpetrates on its citizens. Its 2018 edition was released last week in the Korean language, and according to Chosun‘s translation finds that North Korea has continued the brutal repression of its citizens—including the use of torture, public executions, and placing thousands in labor camps for insufficient loyalty to the Kim family cult—despite changing its image before the world into a friendlier, more conciliatory one.
The KINU is a think tank funded by the South Korean government. According to Chosun, the rollout of the 2018 North Korea human rights reports differs significantly from previous years.
“While the human rights situation in the North remains bleak, the institute issued no press release about the publication as it had in previous years, apparently for fear that any widely publicized criticism of the North here could agitate the regime and jeopardize the détente,” the newspaper notes.
In contrast, a KINU survey released this week on South Korean sentiment towards Pyongyang has received much more national attention. That survey found that 61.8 percent of South Koreans “approved of economic exchange and cooperation with North Korea despite political and military confrontations,” according to the South Korean newswire service Yonhap. While higher than the past two years, the number is still lower than the 68.7 percent who approved of doing business with the communist regime in 2015. Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea significantly increased propaganda efforts to threaten a nuclear strike against South Korea following that year and conducted two nuclear tests in 2016.
The poll feeds into the narrative South Korea’s leftist President Moon Jae-in has promoted that the nation has warmed towards Kim Jong-un and seeks to avoid a continuation of the Korean War at all costs. Moon invited North Korea to participate in February’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics, at the expense of the South Korean taxpayer, and met with Kim Jong-un in the border city of Panmunjom on April 27. Moon is in Washington this week to help ensure that the scheduled meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on June 12 goes as planned. In a joint press conference with Moon on Tuesday, Trump promised that Kim would be “safe,” “happy,” and “proud” if he came to an agreement with the United States on ending his nuclear program in exchange for economic aid.
Neither Trump nor Moon mentioned North Korea’s human rights abuses, which according to Chosun Ilbo‘s translation of the KINU report have worsened between 2017 and 2018.
“People are sent to brutal political prison camps simply for contacting family members who have escaped to South Korea,” the report details, according to the newspaper. Public executions grew more common for individuals found to possess media produced outside of North Korea (all North Korean media is promotional material for the Kim family), in particular South Korean television programs and Hollywood movies. Attempting to escape North Korea is often punished with execution.
Past reports have found that the Kim regime systematically rapes female dissidents and forces them to abort the resulting children, or feed the children to animals in front of their mothers. Labor camp guards also induce starvation, according to survivors, by forcing prisoners to eat grass, insects, rats, and other vermin.
The U.S. State Department identified at least five large labor camps to punish dissidents of the regime in 2017, whose known population total over 100,000 people.
Some North Korean defectors have raised concerns since Moon met with Kim that the atmosphere in South Korea, led by the government, has become hostile to critics of the violent Kim regime. Ahn Chan-il, the president of the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told the newswire service UPI that “defector interviews on television and radio have decreased by about 80 percent at least since the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics” and that he believed he was personally banned from South Korean media for dismissively referring to Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister and the head of the North Korean Propaganda and Agitation Department, as “that woman.”
“Human rights could be used as pressure against Kim. It’s not good that it is not being raised,” Ahn added.