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Human rights situation still dire in North Korea: report

North Koreans at Pyongyang station (Reuters-Yonhap)
North Koreans at Pyongyang station (Reuters-Yonhap)

North Koreans under leader Kim Jong-un live in dire human rights conditions, facing execution for watching or circulating South Korean TV dramas, the Korea Institute for National Unification said in its latest white paper on human rights in the North.

The extensive application and frequent implementation of the death penalty in the communist regime could be a breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty the United Nations adopted to safeguard individual liberties, the paper said.

Due process in trial is not guaranteed, with arbitrary detention enforced by authorities and prisoners forced into labor. But some North Koreans were afforded the right to an attorney and an opportunity to challenge unlawful house searches, while violence during detention decreased, the paper added based on firsthand testimonies from defectors and exiles.

Moreover, Pyongyang is still operating political prison camps, putting anyone into custody who has exchanges with Seoul, such as helping defectors or planning defection oneself.

The reclusive regime has stepped up crackdowns on defectors and tightened border controls since Kim came to power in 2011. Aborted defection attempts would likely greatly endanger lives of defector hopefuls, the paper added.

The annual paper published since 1996 was put together with the help of around a hundred defectors who offered their detailed account of life in the hermit country ruled by the Kim family. Official documents obtained from North Korea, the UN and other international organizations accounted for additional detail, according to the paper.

By Choi Si-young (