Doubling Down on Human Rights Denial at North Korea’s 7th Party Congress

By Robert Collins, HRNK Senior Advisor and Author

When one evaluates North Korea’s Workers’ Party (KWP) 7th Congress, it is apparent that the Kim Regime completely rejected the findings and recommendations of the 2014 Report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK as well as subsequent UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly resolutions. Major shifts in the 7th Party Congress’ organizational structures and the personnel staffed by North Korean elites within those structures indicate that Kim Jong-un and his Kim family regime have no intention of improving human rights for the North Korean people. The 7th Party Congress themes—projected policy lines, Party reorganization, and new elite appointments—all bolster the regime’s ability to enforce its draconian policy of human rights denial by changing nothing in that socio-political dynamic. Indeed, Kim Jong-un’s focus at the 7th Party Congress was on securing his power base and economic programs that support regime objectives,[1] which significantly, if not primarily, focus on North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.[2] This comes as little surprise to most and is even expected by those who pay close attention to the regime’s policy of human rights denial and its implementation practices. While there are those who are optimistic about improvements in North Korea’s human rights environment,[3] we are frankly left with mere hope; however, as the saying goes, “hope is not a strategy.”

The two concepts of human rights and weapons of mass destruction stand in stark contrast in terms of regime focus and resource allocation. Kim Jong-un emphasized that Party-led national priorities would focus on economic development and the North Korean nuclear program in his speeches at the 7th Party Congress, thus ensuring the continued conflict between nuclear weapons and human rights as well as impacting the diplomatic priorities of nation-states and international organizations that try to deal with both. As long as this conflict dynamic continues, each North Korean will suffer from deprivation of state support and Party-state denial of the principles enunciated in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Indeed, Kim Jong-un admitted as much in his full report of the 7th Party Congress, where he stated, “our people, though they are not well-off …”[4]

Accordingly, the recent sanctions against North Korea by the U.S. Department of the Treasury are welcome indeed. Following the release of the U.S. Department of State’s most recent Human Rights Report, the U.S. Department of the Treasury ’s Office of Foreign Assets Control initiated sanctions against 11 personnel (all KWP members even though not all of them work in Party posts) and five organizations, including the KWP Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), the Ministry of Public Security (national police) and its prison bureau, and the Ministry of State Security (also known as the State Security Department or SSD) and its prison bureau. The most significant sanction was against the ruler of the regime himself, Kim Jong-un.[5], [6] Such actions are the best way to ensure the international community’s efforts will be most effective along with the physical sanctions.

Amanda Mortwedt Oh of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea recently did a superb job detailing how the North Korean human rights situation has proceeded under Kim Jong-un: the suppression continues—if it has not increased—and the international community is taking more actions, such as the U.S. sanctions mentioned above.[7] Those concerned with this issue would do well to read it.

As expected, the regime’s reaction was vitriolic and threatening. Han Song-ryol, Director-General of the U.S. Affairs Department at North Korea's Foreign Ministry, insisted that "the United States has crossed the red line in our showdown," and "we regard this thrice-cursed crime as a declaration of war."[8] However, the 7th Party Congress was all about Kim Jong-un. The strategy that Kim and his subordinates employed was to control the attendance at the Congress and thus, the participation in voting—not to mention the requisite cheering and clapping in response to Kim’s speeches. This control would eliminate any opposition from the beginning. The reorganization and re-staffing were, by specific design, to strengthen Kim Jong-un’s leadership at the top of the regime. To ensure the success of these moves, the KWP OGD (one of the organizations sanctioned by the U.S.) and its sub-elements—provincial, city, and county levels under each local Party committee’s organization secretary—politically vetted each and every delegate to ensure that only the most loyal Party members participated in the 7th Party Congress and its delegate selection process.[9]

Furthermore, the 7th Party Congress Implementation Committee—those responsible for oversight of the Congress and its proceedings—was made up of long-time regime supporters:

  1. Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) Standing Committee Chairman Kim Yong-nam
  2.  General Political Bureau (GPB) Director, Vice-Marshal Hwang Pyong-so
  3. Premier Pak Pong-ju
  4. KWP Vice-Chairman Choi Ryong-hae
  5. KWP Vice-Chairman Kim Ki-nam
  6. KWP Vice-Chairman Choi Tae-bok
  7. Minister of People’s Armed Forces Pak Yong-sik
  8. Korean People’s Army (KPA) Chief of General Staff General Ri Myong-su
  9. SPA Standing Committee Vice-Chairman Yang Hyong-sop
  10. National Defense Commission (NDC) Vice-Chairman Vice Marshal Ri Yong-mu
  11. NDC Vice-Chairman General O Kuk-ryol
  12. SSD Director General Kim Won-hong
  13. KWP Vice-Chairman and KWP Finance Department Director Kwak Bom-ki
  14. Hamgyeong North Province KWP Party Chairman O Su-yong
  15. KWP Vice-Chairman and KWP Cadre Department Director Kim Pyong-hae
  16. KWP Vice-chairman and Director of the KWP United Front Department Kim Yong-chol
  17. Minister of People’s Security Choi Bu-il
  18. Vice-Premier No Du-chol
  19. OGD First Vice-Director Cho Yon-jun
  20. SPA Standing Committee Honorary Vice-Chairman Choi Yong-rim
  21. KWP Vice-Chairman Ri Su-yong
  22. Vice-Premier and former Chagang Province KWP Committee Chairman Kim Dok-hun
  23. Vice-Premier Kim Yong-jin
  24. Vice-Premier Ri Mu-yong
  25. Vice-Premier Ri Chol-man
  26. KWP Workers’ Organization Department Director Ri Il-hwan
  27. KWP Military Industries Department Director Ri Man-gon
  28. Former KWP Light Industries Department Director An Jong-su
  29. KWP Science and Education Department Director Choi Sang-gon
  30. KWP Military Department Director Ri Yong-nae
  31. KWP History Research Center Director Kim Jong-im
  32. Former Rodong Shinmun Editor Kim Jung-yop
  33. KWP First Vice-Director Kim Man-song
  34. Former Pyongan South Province Party Committee Chairman Hong In-bom
  35. Former KWP Military Industries Department Director Pak Do-chun
  36. OGD First Vice-Director Ri Pyong-chol
  37. Former KWP Military Industries Department Director Chu Kyu-chang
  38. Second Economic Committee Chairman Cho Chun-yong[10]
Every one of these individuals is from the core of the Party elite and has profited enormously from their loyalty to the regime, and from service to the Party and its policies, including human rights denial.

Kim Jong-un’s consolidation of authority goes even further. According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, 129 (54.9%) of the Central Committee's 235 members and candidate members were replaced during the 7th Party Congress,[11] implying that Kim has placed a new set of supporters in the regime’s core positions. If any of those newly appointed personnel had any thoughts of recommending changes to the regime’s policy of human rights denial, they would not have even been considered for appointment to the regime’s core political group. This was undoubtedly one of the reasons why the KWP OGD vetted every attendee. The major shifts in organization and personnel indicate that Kim Jong-un has no intention of improving human rights for any North Koreans, ordinary citizens and select elites alike.

By the time the 7th Party Congress was held in May 2016, the KWP membership stood at 3,467,000 or 13%[12] of the population, including 200,000 candidate members.[13] A total of 1,387 members, including 315 women, participated in the Congress at the April 25th Cultural Hall and there were 200 speakers led by Kim Jong-un,[14] SPA Presidium leader Kim Yong-nam, and GPB Director Hwang Pyong-so. Participating in one form or another at the Congress were 1,545 political workers; 719 military personnel; 423 state administrators; 52 workers’ organizational representatives; and 112 scientists, health specialists, culture and arts representatives, and publishing personnel. One representative for every 1,000 Party members participated in the 7th Party Congress.[15]

Following the 7th Party Congress, Kim Jong-un redoubled his moves to solidify his hold on power at the 4th Session of the 13th SPA. Changes were made to the state constitution, but there were no changes that improved the human rights situation for the North Korean people. The primary change to the state’s constitution was that of Kim Jong-un’s official title becoming “Supreme Leader.” In doing so, Kim has guaranteed that there will be no changes to the regime’s policy of human rights denial because the concept of Supreme Leader is based on North Korean ideology, and is perpetuated and implemented through observance at every level of society for every North Korean through the Ten Great Principles of Monolithic Ideology. This doctrine, which serves as the North’s true constitution, obligates all citizens to sacrifice themselves in every aspect for the Supreme Leader, eliminating human rights as a consideration.

Indeed, if there was ever an opportunity to change policy on human rights in North Korea, it would have been at a time when changes were made to the constitution. But that opportunity was surely missed, or likely never considered. Regrettably, there were no judges, lawyers, or prosecutors appointed to any positions in the new leadership structures either at the 7th Party Congress or the 4th Session of the 13th SPA. There were no human rights observers, pro-Pyongyang or otherwise, invited to either meeting.

Furthermore, it should be noted that all policy change proposals must be processed through the KWP OGD.[16] The tight control exhibited by the OGD during the 7th Party Congress indicates that there was no intent whatsoever to initiate changes. When will the human rights situation in North Korea improve? Certainly, based on evidence and precedent accumulated over the past four and a half years, improvement would be difficult during the reign of Kim Jong-un. Unfortunately, the regime’s policy of human rights denial is likely to get worse before it gets better.

[1] Michael Madden, “Deciphering the 7th Party Congress: A Teaser for Greater Change?” 38, May 20, 2016. URL:
[2] Kim Sooyeon, N. Korea's party adopts decision on nukes at key congress,” Yonhap News, May 9, 2016. URL:
[3] Lee Jung-Hoon and Joe Phillips, “Drawing the Line: Combating Atrocities in North Korea,” Washington Quarterly, 39:2, pp. 61–77. URL:
[4] Michael Madden, KJU Full Report to 7th Party Congress,” NK Leadership Watch, June 21, 2016. URL:
[5] “Report on Human Rights Abuses and Censorship in North Korea,” U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, July 6, 2016. URL:
[6] “Treasury Sanctions North Korean Senior Officials and Entities Associated with Human Rights Abuses,” U.S. Department of the Treasury Press Center, July 6, 2016. URL:
[7] Amada Mortwedt Oh, “The Human Rights Factor: Changes Under Kim Jong-un,” HRNK Insider, August 15, 2106. URL:
[8] Eric Talmadge, 5 Points from AP Interview with N. Korean Diplomat,” New York Times via Associated Press, July 29, 2016. URL:
[9] Michael Madden, Conferences Held to Elect Delegates to 7th Party Congress and Provincial Party Meetings,” North Korea Leadership Watch, April 16, 2016. URL:
[10] Cho Jong-hun, “양복입은 김정은 전체인구 약13%가 당원 (Kim Jong-un in Western Suit: 13% of the Population are Party Members),” Tongil News, May 7, 2016. URL:
[11] Recent N. Korean congress replaces over half of partys central committee,” Yonhap News Agency, May 13, 2016. URL:
[12] In comparison, the Chinese Communist Party membership makes up about 6% of the population.
[13] Cho Jong-hun, “양복입은 김정은 전체인구 약13%가 당원 (Kim Jong-un in Western Suit: 13% of the Population are Party Members),” Tongil News, May 7, 2016. URL:
[14] April 25, 1932 is the day that North Korea celebrates the establishment of the KPA with respect to the beginning of Kim Il-sung and the anti-Japanese partisans’ efforts against Japan’s colonial government in Korea. The KPA Foundation day was formerly February 8th and the hall was named the February 8th Cultural Hall at its founding in October 1975. The hall property covers 124,000 square meters. The seven-story hall itself is about 80,000 square meters and houses a 6,000-seat viewing hall, a 1,100-seat theater, and a 600-seat movie theater. The 6th Party Congress of October 1980 was also held there.
[15] Cho Jong-hun, “양복입은 김정은 전체인구 약13%가 당원 (Kim Jong-un in Western Suit…13% of the Population are Party Members),” Tongil News, May 7, 2016. URL:
[16] Hyun Seong-il, 북한의 국가전략과 파워 엘리트: 간부정책을 중심으로 (North Korea’s National Security Strategy and Power Elite: Focus on Cadre Policy) (Seoul: Sonin Publishing, 2007), p.400-403.

The Human Rights Factor: Changes Under Kim Jong-un

By Amanda Mortwedt Oh, HRNK Project Officer


North Korea’s human rights landscape is changing since Kim Jong-un came to power at the end of 2011, as evidenced by: 1) decreased refugee flows to South Korea; 2) increased information infiltration into North Korea; 3) increased international pressure concerning human rights violations; 4) North Korea’s responses to international criticism for its human rights policies and practices; and 5) the growing nexus between security and human rights.

Meet Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN’s New Special Rapporteur on North Korea

By Christine Chung

Based on the recommendations of the Consultative Group, the President of the Human Rights Council, Choi Kyonglim, proposed Tomás Ojea Quintana for the position of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The Human Rights Council approved the appointment on 1 July 2016 during its most recent session in Geneva. On August 1, 2016, his first day as UN Special Rapporteur, we wish to congratulate Tomás Ojea Quintana as he officially takes up his mandate today. 

Mr. Ojea Quintana spoke to HRNK Senior Advisor Christine Chung in his first interview as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK.

Q1:  Many people interested in North Korean human rights have been asking me about you. Could you tell readers a little bit about your background?

Ojea Quintana:  First, thank you for this opportunity to talk to those people who are interested in the situation of those living in North Korea, the DPRK. I have been a human rights lawyer for over 20 years. I have worked in different trials in respect to human rights abuses committed during the military times here in Argentina. I also worked for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bolivia, and I have covered issues regarding reproductive and sexual rights. From 2008 to 2014, I was the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, which took a lot of my time but was very rewarding. 

Currently, I am a professor—I teach human rights. I also continue working as a human rights attorney in Argentina in different cases. At the moment, I am working on a trial regarding the involvement of an automobile company as an accomplice to the military regime in crimes against humanity. And last month, I was honored by the Human Rights Council that appointed me as Special Rapporteur for the DPRK. I am very committed to giving my utmost effort for the improvement of the human rights situation in the DPRK.

Q2:  What motivated you to take on this challenging new mandate?

OQ:  As I mentioned, I have been the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar in the recent past for six years. It was a very important and relevant experience working with this United Nations human rights mechanism. I believe that the appointment of country rapporteurs to let UN members know about the situation of the people inside the country is very effective. My experience in Myanmar shows that you can get progress in different areas around the country in respect to the human rights of the people living there.

The former Special Rapporteur on the DPRK and other UN human rights mechanisms made considerable effort into seeking ways to improve the human rights of the people living in the DPRK. This is for me an extraordinary challenge because there is excellent work that has been done by the former Rapporteur and others. The situation inside the country, according to their reports, is critical in many aspects. For me, working for many years to improve human rights around the world, this is a new challenge. I am happy to get involved in this, trying to contribute to the efforts of so many civil society organizations that have been working throughout the years trying to put onto the UN agenda the problems of the common people in the DPRK who are suffering. I am motivated by this. I hope to contribute to improving the lives of people in the DPRK.

Q3:  Do you see parallels between the situations in the DPRK and Myanmar?

OQ:  Myanmar has been ruled by a military regime for 40 years. During my mandate, starting in 2008 and ending in 2014, throughout those years I could establish that there was at that time a pattern of gross and systematic human rights abuses that entailed crimes against humanity in Myanmar. Therefore, we can draw a parallel between Myanmar and the DPRK since the latest reports, especially those coming from the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK (COI), also showed patterns of human rights abuses in DPRK which were considered by the COI as crimes against humanity.

Let me speak about another parallel: the fact that Myanmar was for many years also an isolated country, isolated from the international community where human rights rapporteurs were unable to visit the country. For a combination of factors, this changed. I had a chance then to visit Myanmar many times; I visited at least nine times. I traveled all over the country. I visited political prisoners, and at the same time, I had the opportunity to meet with the authorities, which is always very relevant when addressing a human rights situation. 

In fact, the ideal of cooperation is central for Special Rapporteurs. Now this seems to be a very critical difference between Myanmar and DPRK, since the authorities of North Korea throughout the years haven’t shown a willingness to cooperate with UN rapporteurs. This, of course, will be a challenge. You may know that when the Human Rights Council of the United Nations appoints Special Rapporteurs, they ask them not only to report to it, but to do this through the principle of cooperation, which is a very important principle in the UN Charter. This has been a critical difficulty in respect to the DPRK. This is a clear difference between Myanmar and DPRK, since Myanmar nowadays has opened to the international community and has even changed from a military regime to a civilian government.

Q4:  How are you planning to approach the particular challenges of the DPRK mandate?

OQ:  The very first element that a Special Rapporteur has to show to the concerned parties, in this case the authorities of the DPRK, is independence and impartiality. Of course, my predecessors and members of the COI have been holding this important attitude. But I’m a new Rapporteur, so the first step is to show independence and impartiality in respect to the situation.

And then there is a question of strategy to try to engage those stakeholders who can somehow influence the DPRK authorities to reconsider their policy towards UN human rights mechanisms including the Rapporteurs, to influence them to start cooperating as it might be to their benefit because cooperation means a willingness to offer assistance, to offer help, in addressing human rights problems. This is something that is difficult. Don’t forget that rapporteurs have mandates from the Human Rights Council for six years, so it is a necessity to think in not only the short term but also the long term for strategy. Bearing in mind the importance of cooperation, it’s my main task to provide a voice to those who suffer human rights abuses on the ground. That’s basically our main mandate as Special Rapporteurs: to report independently and impartially about the suffering, the human rights abuses, by those living in the country. A strategy of cooperation can never compromise that important mandate.

Q5:  As you know, there are almost 30,000 North Koreans now residing in South Korea, while a significant number of North Korean citizens labor overseas in conditions that have been characterized as forced labor. How would they fit into your strategy?

OQ:  The mandate from the Human Rights Council is to address the human rights situation inside North Korea, inside DPRK, so this might show a limitation in terms of territoriality. The problem of addressing a human rights situation is that usually this encompasses different factors that come from different places around the world. In this case, it is clear that the situation of those workers from North Korea who leave the country to work overseas, according to some reports under the worst of conditions, including in countries in Europe and Asia then return to the DPRK, will be of interest. The agenda in this respect includes dialogue and engagement with countries that somehow have connections with the people from the DPRK. As to how, this is something that I need to work on. As a preliminary view, I would say it is in my interest as the Special Rapporteur on the DPRK to listen to those other governments and stakeholders who have this kind of connection with people from the DPRK.

Q6:  What’s your game plan for the first year?

OQ:  At the moment, I am looking into all the information regarding the past but, more importantly, the current human rights situation of the people living in the DPRK. While looking into that kind of information, I am also following crucial developments in respect to the nuclear and ballistic weapons tests in the DPRK and the repercussions from those actions on South Korea, but also in the region. I have not yet defined a clear strategy for the long term. My next commitment is to present a report in New York to the members of the United Nations at the General Assembly. I’m starting to work on that, bearing in mind and considering the extraordinary work of my recent predecessor, Marzuki Darusman, and the Commission of Inquiry, which had defined a clear agenda that I will, of course, consider in my next report. 

I think there’s opportunity with a new stakeholder coming from another region of the world, from South America—I’m based in Buenos Aires, I live in Argentina. There’s the possibility for a new stakeholder from this region, with no connection in the past to North or South Korea, to bring new opportunities for new strategies for the important goal of improvements for those living in the DPRK, to look into the situation of the prisons, to see if there are chances to improve the situation of the people in terms of access to economic, social and cultural rights, particularly in terms of access to health and access to food, and other important human rights issues. In terms of achievements, what Special Rapporteurs would always like to see are improvements in these different areas. I believe these types of improvements in the end will help bring peace to the region and particularly on the Korean peninsula.

The Rime of the Juche Mariner: North Korean Sailors and Fishermen Dispatched Overseas through Montevideo, Uruguay

by Greg Scarlatoiu
(translation of all North Korean propaganda material by Raymond Ha)

During a recent speaking tour in South America, a most intriguing story was brought to HRNK’s attention: The North Korean regime is dispatching sailors and fishermen overseas through Montevideo, Uruguay, one of South America’s major ports. This is the first time that the presence of dispatched North Korean workers is confirmed in South America. This is also the first time propaganda and indoctrination material carried by North Korean sailors officially dispatched overseas is examined by a human rights organization. HRNK has also received information on a similar operation being conducted in Peru, but has so far been unable to verify such reports.

Through a strange turn of events, HRNK gained access to the handwritten notes of one of the North Korean sailors. Most of the material is official propaganda, likely aimed to ensure that the sailor stays sharply devoted to the North Korean leadership throughout his voyage. Rushed by watchful minders from the airport terminal to a taxi, a North Korean sailor failed to pick up his luggage. Eventually, the two pieces of lost luggage were opened in an attempt to find the owner. Photos of the bags and their contents, including propaganda material, North Korean candy and clothes stuffed in plastic bags, were made available to HRNK’s source.

Lost in Montevideo: A North Korean sailor’s baggage

A taste of home: North Korean grape candy (in rather shabby packaging)

The luggage contained dozens of handwritten pages (only seventeen were photographed and passed on to HRNK), mostly containing poems and songs dedicated to the three Kims and the Kim regime as well as some of the fundamentals of North Korean ideology, including the “juche” doctrine of self-reliance. The sailor took detailed notes on the meaning of North Korea as a “strong and prosperous nation,” on the “songun” military-first policy, and on North Korea’s “gun barrel philosophy.” The notes, likely meant to be read and rehearsed while at sea, remind the North Korean sailor that “motherland is the bosom of Our General.” The sailor, most likely a Korean Workers’ Party member, thus enjoying relatively good “songbun” status in North Korea’s loyalty-based social classification system, reminds himself through the notes that monthly Party membership dues must be paid. The sailor, having written down the lyrics of songs dedicated to both “General Kim Il-sung” and “General Kim Jong-il,” includes vows to serve the General “for ten million years,” and to “defend General Kim Jong-un with our lives,” to the very end of space and time.

Stranded in Montevideo: the “juche” mariner’s notes (only seventeen out of dozens of pages were photographed)

The following is one of the propaganda items translated into English:

The General lives forever as the sun 

Like the sunshine that lights this land
The smile shines radiant across the world
His great love, devoted to the people
Shines forth its light forever
The General stays with us
He lives forever as the sun

Lighting the way of truth and justice
The mark of Songun shall forever remain
His great legacy, in service to the motherland
Shall shine for all posterity
The General stays with us
He lives forever as the sun
The remainder of the propaganda pieces can be read in English at the end of this article.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un regime continues to maintain its grip on power through a policy of human rights denial at home and through diplomatic deception, threats, and military provocations abroad. North Korea’s nuclear and missile developments and other military provocations have continued to threaten international peace and security and challenge U.S. foreign and security policy. The Kim regime’s ruthless prevention and suppression of dissent among its population, isolation of them from the outside world and denial of their fundamental human rights have also worked to undermine peace and security on the Korean peninsula. North Korea’s exportation of tens of thousands of workers to foreign countries is an important part of the hard currency generating apparatus employed to sustain the Kim regime and its weapons programs.

Available reports indicate that the first overseas North Korean laborers were loggers exported to the Soviet Far East in 1967.[1] Since the inception of the program, North Korean workers have been officially dispatched to almost 50 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.[2] Most recently, 16 or more countries reportedly hosted workers sent by the North Korean regime, including: Russia (20,000), China (19,000), Mongolia (1,300), Kuwait (5,000), UAE (2,000), Qatar (1,800), Angola (1,000), Poland (400-500), Malaysia (300), Oman (300), Libya (300), Myanmar (200), Nigeria (200), Algeria (200), Equatorial Guinea (200) and Ethiopia (100).[3] Although North Korea is not a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), all states reportedly hosting North Korean workers are ILO members.

NGOs from South Korea, the United States and Europe have continued to report on the dispatch of North Korean workers overseas and the excruciating working conditions most of them face, in many cases constituting forced or slave labor. UN Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in the DPRK Marzuki Darusman paid particular attention to the issue. Following intense scrutiny by international NGOs, media and international organizations, countries such as Poland and Qatar have taken steps toward the termination of programs employing North Korean workers at worksites where their fundamental labor rights are egregiously violated.

The North Koreans dispatched overseas as loggers, construction workers, textile or restaurant workers see their salaries confiscated by the North Korean authorities up to 80 or 90 percent. In addition to egregious wage violations, they are forced to work long days and weekends, to the extent that most of them do not even understand the concept of “overtime work.” Health and safety violations are rampant at worksites run by North Korean government agents overseas. Freedom of association or collective bargaining is inexistent, and dispute resolution mechanisms unthinkable (although all of these rights exist on paper, even in North Korea’s own Constitution and labor legislation).

Faced with intense scrutiny, the North Korean regime appears to be exploring industries and geographic areas where the workers are “conveniently” out of the field of sight of the international community. Sailors and fishermen dispatched to work on foreign ships live and work in tightly contained environments, vulnerable to abuse by both North Korean government minders and foreign ship captains and managers. Moreover, no location in South America has yet been associated with the overseas dispatch of North Korean workers. By dispatching sailors and fishermen through Montevideo, Uruguay, the North Korean regime has been able to avoid international attention.

But such operations may no longer be so easy to conceal. Sources in the country have confirmed that a Uruguayan company is cooperating with the North Korean authorities to dispatch North Korean sailors and fishermen to work on foreign ships. Based on luggage tag information, prior to landing in Montevideo, the sailors transit through Beijing and Paris. Although HRNK hasn’t yet been able to independently verify this information, the company has been identified as “Grupo Christophersen Organizacion Maritima,” headquartered in Montevideo. In order to avoid scrutiny by locals and to deny the sailors contact with the outside world, the North Koreans are picked up as soon as they land in Montevideo. They are then taken to a foreign fishing vessel by taxi. Practically, unless they are accompanied by watchful North Korean minders, the sailors can’t set foot on Uruguayan soil. According to local sources, it is primarily Taiwanese ships that make port in Uruguay and take on groups of ten to twenty North Korean sailors. Two of these Taiwanese fishing ships identified by local sources are reportedly “Shengpa” and “Samdera Pacific.”

North Korea’s own shipping industry has been under scrutiny for many years, due to abysmal violations of labor standards. HRNK Board member Marcus Noland recently noted in “Witness to Transformation:”

“A number of regional port state control (PSC) organizations exist around the world designed to promote maritime safety through the elimination of sub-standard shipping, the safeguarding of working and living conditions and the protection of the marine environment. […] In the most recent rating […] North Korea lands on the black list, with the fifth worst record of 64 countries ranked, besting only Sierra Leone, landlocked Mongolia, Tanzania, and Papua New Guinea. […] In short, years of operating substandard vessels and engaging in abusive labor practices are catching up with North Korea, precisely at a time when its military provocations are subjecting the country to ever more scrutiny.”[4]

Just like all other workers dispatched overseas, the North Korean sailors and fishermen embarking on foreign ships through Montevideo appear to be relentlessly indoctrinated. Most likely, as is the case with many other North Koreans dispatched overseas to earn hard currency for the Kim regime, such positions are assigned only to married men, who leave at least one child behind, if not two. Secluded and confined on foreign ships, thousands of miles away from their families, likely subjected to harsh working conditions, the North Korean sailors appear to be clinging to their government-issued propaganda, with seemingly “religious” devotion. By reading the handwritten propaganda material masterfully translated by Raymond Ha, the reader may just get an idea of the level of indoctrination that overseas North Korean workers face, and also of how challenging it may be to change hearts and minds in North Korea, even in the case of those officially dispatched outside the country.

“Bible study:” Even when the fishing vessels make port, the North Korean sailors are not allowed on shore. Instead, they remain on board, studying ideology and propaganda

  1. Mother
  2. My motherland
  3. Mother's request
  4. I love my mother
  5. A world of longing
  6. Forgive me
  1. Song of General Kim Il-sung
  2. Song of General Kim Jong-il
  3. We shall defend General Kim Jong-un with our lives
  4. Burning wish
  5. The motherland that I defend
  6. You are my mother
  7. The General lives forever as the sun
  8. Party flag, we will always be with you
  9. Praise to the motherland

What kind of party is the Korean Workers’ Party? 

The Korean Workers’ Party is a Juche-style revolutionary party founded by the Great Suryong, raised by our Dear Comrade Kim Jong-il, and led by Supreme Commander Comrade Kim Jong-un. Of all organizations of the working people, it is the highest Juche-style revolutionary party.

Charter of the Korean Workers’ Party 

It is a Juche-style Marxist-Leninist revolutionary ideology developed by the Great Suryong Comrade Kim Il-sung. 

1. Members of the Korean Workers’ Party must be Juche-style Communist revolutionaries who devote everything to struggle for the Party, Suryong, the motherland, and the people and for the glory of socialism and communism. 
2. As citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, members of the Korean Workers’ Party must be firmly grounded in the Party’s monolithic ideology, resolutely struggle to protect and implement the Party line and policy, and observe the Party Charter. 
3. Members of the Korean Workers’ Party are accepted from among candidate members who have completed their candidate period. In special cases, individuals may be directly accepted as members.

Responsibilities of Party Members 

1. Party members must firmly uphold the Party’s monolithic leadership system. 
2. Party members must have a highly developed organizational consciousness and voluntarily participate in Party life to revolutionize and labor class-ize oneself. 
3. Party members must establish a revolutionary culture of studying…and continuously raise their standards. 
4. Party members must work with the people on revolutionary labor tasks. 
5. Party members must serve as a model for the people in work and life, and play a leading role in labor projects. 
6. Party members must display a lofty communistic moral character. 
7. Party members must firmly defend the socialist motherland. 
8. Party members must defend the revolutionary institutions and order, remain highly alert, and strictly protect all state and Party secrets. 
9. Party members must promptly report any problems in work or life to the Party structure. 
10. Party members must pay monthly Party dues, as stipulated, without delay.

Rights of Party Members 

1. Party members may, through Party meetings and Party publications, state opinions that strengthen the Party line and Party policy or contribute to the Party’s work. 
2. Party members have the right to vote at Party meetings, and they have the right to elect and be elected in elections for in the Workers’ Party’s guidance organs. 
3. Party members may criticize another Party member, if there is a legitimate reason and evidence, and may refuse any orders that violate the Party’s monolithic ideological system. 
4. Party members may request to participate in Party meetings that discuss or decide on matters relating to one’s work or life. 
5. Party members may raise grievances or submit petitions to Party committees at each level, up to the Central Committee, and may request that such matters be reviewed.

Explanation of Terms 

Songun politics: Our party’s songun revolutionary leadership and songun politics is a form of revolutionary leadership and a form of socialist politics that elevates the military as the most important matter of state, relying on the fighting power and the revolutionary nature of the people’s military to protect the motherland, the revolution, and socialism, and to push forth with the comprehensive construction of socialism. 

Characteristics of songun politics: to protect the motherland, the revolution, and socialism, and to achieve a decisive victory in the anti-imperialist, anti-American battle. 

Party: A party is a political organization of individuals who have gathered based on a shared ideology. 

Party member: Someone who observes the party platform and party charter. Members of the Korean Workers’ Party are self-aware revolutionary fighters who devote everything in their struggle for the Party and the revolution. 

Party structure: A Party structure is a body of Party members that is organized by a defined [Party] life, as decided by the Party center. 

Party ideological life: A Party member receives the political ‘rations’ necessary to sustain political life, and then changes these rations into his own skin and bones. 

Party organizational ideology: This is a general understanding of and attitude towards Party structures. In other words, it is an organizational ideology related to how one acts towards Party structures, and how one accepts the Party structure’s control.

Ideological nature: It is to achieve oneness in the direction of the ideological struggle between the military and the people, based on the revolutionary consciousness of the soldier. 

Revolutionary comradeship: This is a noble and invaluable ideology of revolutionaries who struggle. 

Gun-barrel philosophy: The revolution is initiated, progresses, and is completed by the gun barrel. 

Strong and prosperous nation: Combining the unity of purpose of ten million soldiers and people, invincible military power, and the industrial revolution of the new century results in a strong and prosperous nation. 

Juche ideology: The masses are the masters of revolution and construction, and the force that drives revolution and construction also lies with the masses. In other words, it is an ideology that proclaims that each individual is the master of his fate, and each individual has the power to decide his own destiny. 

Motherland: The motherland is not simply the rivers and mountains of the place where one was born. It is a place where the people live genuine lives, and where the happiness of posterity is guaranteed by the Suryong. In other words, it is the bosom of Our General.

Song of General Kim Il-sung 

1. The marks of blood, steeped in the peaks of Mount Changbaek 
The marks of blood, flowing in the curves of the Yalu River 
Even today, above the flowers of free Chosun 
Those divine marks still shine brightly 
The name itself is longing, our General— 
Even his name shines brightly, General Kim Il-sung 

2. Speak, the blizzards of Manchuria 
Speak, the long, long nights of the forest 
Who is the immortal partisan? 
Who is the peerless patriot? 
The name itself is longing, our General— 
Even his name shines brightly, General Kim Il-sung 

Song of General Kim Jong-il 

1. From the peaks of Mount Baekdu and across the beautiful land of Korea 
The sound of cheers exalting our General continue to echo 
The leader of the people, who shined forth the glory of the sun 
Long live, long live General Kim Jong-il 

2. The million flowers of the land carry his love 
The clear waters of the East and West Sea sing his legacy 
The creator of happiness, who cultivated the paradise of Juche 
Long live, long live General Kim Jong-il 

3. Defending socialism with the courage of steel 
He raises my country, my motherland in the eyes of the world 
The protector of justice, who raises high the flag of Juche 
Long live, long live General Kim Jong-il 

There is no end to longing 

1. Would he return if he knew the apple trees bloom? 
Would he return if he knew of the cascades of vinylon? 
All the country’s sons and daughters cry out the General’s name 
There is no end to the longing, which strikes the heart again today 

2. Would he return if we built up a wonderful street? 
Would he return if we built up a new factory? 
Ten million hearts burn, waiting for the day to serve our General 
There is no end to the longing, which is just as earnest today 

3. The ten million hearts burning with eternal longing 
Shall abide by the father’s will and follow the Party center 
A vow to loyally serve the General for ten million years 
There is no end to the longing, which is just as pure today

We shall defend General Kim Jong-un with our lives 

Looking to headquarters, wishing for the best 
We hold the same hopes as that warrior in our minds 
Our Supreme Commander, the heart of ten million people 
We shall defend General Kim Jong-un with our lives 

Guarding the sun with all its might 
The bayonet of Baekdu rattles in anger 
Our Supreme Commander, the heart of ten million people 
We shall defend General Kim Jong-un with our lives 

To the ends of the sky and the land, to the end of time 
The gun-barrel’s mission will never change 
Our Supreme Commander, the heart of ten million people 
We shall defend General Kim Jong-un with our lives

The following are just partially legible handwritten notes:

Let us achieve Kim Jong-il’s patriotism to press on with the construction of a strong, prosperous motherland 

Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee, July 26, 2012.

For whom does our Party exist? 

Our Party exists for the people, and…

Why is our Party called the mother Party? 

If our parents give us physical life, the Korean Workers’ Party gives us all…

The Greatness of Comrade Kim Jong-un, our Dear Supreme Commander

For media inquiries, please contact Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu at +1 202.499.7973 or by e-mail at

Copyright © 2016 by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

[1] Logjams in the Soviet Timber Industry. A research Paper. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Directorate of Intelligence. SOV 83-10206X. December 1983. Declassified in part, sanitized copy approved for release, January 26, 2012.
[2] Shin, Chang-Hoon and Myong-Hyun Go. Beyond the UN COI Report on Human Rights in DPRK. PP 21. The Asan Policy Institute. 2014. In addition to the 16 countries included in the Asan publication, recent reports have also indicated that Malta and possibly Bulgaria, both EU and ILO member states, have been hosting North Korean workers.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Noland, Marcus. Rust Buckets of the World, Unite! You don’t want to be a North Korean sailor. Witness to Transformation. Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), June 20, 2016. Available online:

An HRNK Interview with Kim Kwang-jin

By Rosa Park, HRNK Director of Programs and Editor

Q1: What motivated you to become involved in the North Korean human rights field?

Kim Kwang-jin: I frequently travelled abroad, visiting Singapore and also China for banking business. After I defected in 2003, living in the free world, I felt that a lot of things are wrong in North Korea. Most of the people are not given basic human rights. They cannot move freely. They cannot freely choose their jobs. They cannot go abroad as exchange students, with the exception of a very select few. They cannot possess their passports, They cannot have religion. In every aspect, all North Korean people’s rights are abused and they do not even know what human rights mean.

Q2: Why does the North Korean regime focus most of its resources on the mining industry as opposed to other industries?

Kim Kwang-jin: The whole North Korean economic system has collapsed. They do not have things to sell to others except by digging coal and iron ore. So, these became the major resources for the North Korean regime to sell to others, particularly China, to make money. Of course, this sector has also collapsed, but there was high demand from China for the consumption of these mineral resources. Also, in North Korea, they began to develop private transactions and market elements. Of course, it was not forced by the regime, but by individuals and by the public. They could develop themselves and have a way to mobilize resources, like coal and iron ore, and sell it to China. This was not through the state trading system, but through private individuals and small companies.

Q3: What role does songbun, North Korea’s social classification system, play in the export industries?

Kim Kwang-jin: Actually, North Korea is running a kind of caste system. They classify their own people in different categories. There is status bestowed through birth and there is social status. When a person is born, they are assigned a certain status, classification, or social category. If they are from a “good” loyal family, they can have better jobs and they can be promoted easily. They can have better education, better housing, better salary, and better rations. But when they’re born into a family with bad songbun or bad classification, they enjoy fewer privileges. They are always marginalized. The most difficult jobs in North Korea are mining coal and iron ore, and farming. Most of the workers in those areas are from these bad songbun classifications. So, the songbun system is fully in place everywhere in North Korea. It affects the export industry and slave labor in many ways. Also, because of this songbun system, these marginalized and less privileged people suffer in mines and on difficult jobs.

Q4: Who should be held accountable for the human rights violations in North Korea’s export industries?

Kim Kwang-jin: Of course, Kim Jong-un himself, the North Korean regime, and the Korean Worker’s Party (KWP). At the last Seventh Party Congress, Kim Jong-un became the Chairman of the KWP. He is in charge of everything. He is at the top. He is called the brain of the North Korean revolution. So, he’s in charge of everything. Also, the North Korea elite and the system should be held accountable for this slave labor, forced labor, and the human rights abuses in the mining industry.

Q5: Should countries refrain from importing North Korean minerals?

Kim Kwang-jin: The money from these resources is used for the development of the nuclear and missile program, but there is another very good reason that member states should be careful when importing these North Korean underground resources. The North Korean mining industry systematically abuses human rights, “capitalizing” on the loyalty-based songbun classification system. These minerals are produced through human rights abuses. This is another reason why states and private entities should exercise maximum caution when importing North Korean resources.

Original transcription by Lauren McBroom, HRNK Research Intern

HRNK Latin America Travelogue: São Paulo, Brazil

Greg Scarlatoiu
Executive Director, HRNK

From April 17 to 19, I visited São Paulo, Brazil, the first of three South American destinations in a week-long speaking tour organized by South Korea’s National Unification Advisory Council (NUAC) aimed at informing ethnic Koreans about the human rights situation in North Korea. The event in São Paulo brought together about 100 participants, ranging from young second-generation ethnic Koreans in their 20s to Korean War veterans.

Upon arriving in Brazil, I was warmly greeted and looked after by a Korean community that has preserved its traditional values while also embracing the local culture. As a naturalized American who grew up in Romania and spent a decade in South Korea, I decidedly felt at home. The streets and the people reminded me of Romania. Having dinner and a great conversation about soccer, gymnastics, the Cold War, history, Romania, Brazilian politics and the two Koreas over wine until midnight reminded me more of Bucharest than Seoul.

Although my gracious hosts were extraordinarily knowledgeable guides, I barely needed any explanation. I was very much aware of what was going on, regardless of whatever I saw. For example, there is no “inheritance tax” in Brazil. The children inherit one hundred percent of the parents’ fortune. Many of the rich stay rich, and many of the poor stay poor. On the other hand, taxation is harsh and it is the fewer haves who must bear the brunt of it, supporting the many have-nots. But progress is also surely possible in Brazil. The Korean community here is testament to the possibility of fulfilling one's dreams here. The first Korean immigrants arrived in Brazil almost empty-handed in 1965, but through entrepreneurship and hard work they have prospered.. And yet, the happiness index is through the roof! There is a truly unique lifestyle and approach towards life and happiness. People seem content with whatever amount they have in their pockets, rather than despairing over the opportunities they will never have. Korean Brazilians told me about the good and the bad, but there was absolutely no sign of any grievances in their description of their adoptive home. Rather, they think that shortcomings in Brazilian society have created great opportunities for them and their employees. After my presentation, I read an excerpt from the Portuguese language monthly magazine of the Korean community here. Then, I read the Romanian translation. Everybody understood!

The Inaugural Fred Iklé Lecture Featuring Justice Michael Kirby and Roberta Cohen



FEBRUARY 19, 2016



By Roberta Cohen, Co-Chair Emeritus, HRNK

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the first Fred Iklé Lecture sponsored by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). This lecture is to become an annual HRNK event to honor Fred Iklé as principal founder and intellectual architect of our organization and its first chair. When HRNK was established in 2001, Dr. Iklé was well known as a defense and foreign policy specialist and a nuclear strategist. But what was not so well known was his passionate interest in promoting democracy and human rights in countries where people were closed off from their basic freedoms–in particular North Korea. He was one of the first to recognize that because North Korea was so isolated, a research and advocacy organization was needed to document the human rights situation and draw international attention to it. As Chair, he kept HRNK focused and steered a tight ship. HRNK went on to produce groundbreaking reports on North Korea’s prison camps, the plight of refugees, and the devastating famine. He saw the linkage between human rights deprivation and peace and security, which was recalled in a eulogy by NED President Carl Gershman, another distinguished co-founder of HRNK.