March 08, 2013

Press Release: HRNK Calls Attention to the Plight of North Korean Women on International Women’s Day 2013


Friday, March 08, 2013

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C., calls attention to the plight of North Korean women this March 8, International Women’s Day 2013. Although many women around the world will celebrate their progress in achieving greater rights, North Korean women continue to suffer from serious and systematic human rights violations even though North Korea is a party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

According to HRNK’s 2012 report Hidden Gulag Second Edition by David Hawk, 150,000 to 200,000 political prisoners are being held in North Korea’s vast system of unlawful imprisonment. Based on testimony by former prisoners and guards, the report established that sexual relations between young men and women prisoners not sanctioned by camp authorities are prohibited, and young women who become pregnant are severely punished, and often disappear. The report states that “grossly inadequate food rations and forced labor under harsh conditions inevitably lead to sexual exploitation of young women vulnerable to offers of additional food or less arduous work.” North Korean women refugees forcibly repatriated by China in violation of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees— to which China is a party—are subjected to the most demeaning, inhumane and brutal mistreatment while detained in North Korea. Pregnant women, including the victims of trafficking, are subjected to racially motivated forced abortions and infanticide if the North Korean authorities suspect they have been impregnated by Han Chinese men.

Women outside North Korea’s political prison camps have experienced discrimination, and have had to bear the brunt of the struggle to survive amidst North Korea’s catastrophic economic circumstances and perennial food shortages. Ms. Hyun In-ae, a former North Korean and current HRNK resident fellow, said: “After escaping from North Korea and going out into the world, I realized that I had a really hard life, especially as a woman in North Korea. However, North Korean women accepted that kind of difficult life as inevitable, and they have been suffering for many decades now. Despite this situation, North Korean authorities and official propaganda still claim that the happiest woman in the world is the North Korean woman. This is a great tragedy for the women of North Korea.”

HRNK’s 2009 report Lives for Sale by Lee Hae-young addressed the plight of North Korean women attempting to flee into China. According to the report, women represent the majority of North Koreans who desperately cross the border seeking opportunities to improve their lives and the lives of their families. But instead, many “become victims of traffickers and victims of men in China who paid traffickers to purchase a North Korean wife.” They also become vulnerable to deportation by China, which refuses to recognize them as potential refugees.

Although most, if not all, of these women should qualify as refugees sur place because of the persecution they will face if deported to their home country, China continues to claim they are illegal economic migrants, in direct violation of its international obligations.

HRNK Co-chair Roberta Cohen observed: "The forced return of North Korean women refugees by China and their harsh punishment in North Korea underscores the need for far greater international attention to protecting their fundamental rights, personal security and human dignity. Governments, UN bodies and agencies must call China to account for putting so many North Korean women into jeopardy. North Korea must be called to account by any UN commission of inquiry set up to investigate the Kim family’s crimes.”

Established in 2001 by a distinguished group of foreign policy and human rights specialists, HRNK seeks to draw attention to human rights conditions in North Korea by publishing well-documented reports and papers, convening conferences, testifying at national and international fora, and seeking creative ways to end the isolation of the North Korean people.

The reports The Hidden Gulag Second Edition and Lives for Sale are available on HRNK’s website: HRNK.ORG.

Contact: Greg Scarlatoiu,; 202-499-7973

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