Report on Human Rights Abuses or Censorship in North Korea

July 6, 2016

Report on Human Rights Abuses or Censorship in North Korea
Prepared by: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Submitted in compliance with: Section 304 (a) of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, Public Law 114-122, enacted on February 18, 2016

Report on Human Rights Abuses or Censorship in North Korea

Section 304 (a) of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, Public Law 114-122 , enacted on February 18, 2016, requires the Secretary of State to provide a report to Congress that (1) identifies each person the Secretary determines to be responsible for serious human rights abuses or censorship in North Korea and describes the conduct of that person; and (2) describes serious human rights abuses or censorship undertaken by the Government of North Korea or any person acting for or on behalf of that Government in the most recent year ending before the submission of the report. The report is being submitted to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on Financial Services, and the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, and the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate.

The Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) continues to commit serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, forced labor, and torture. Many of these abuses are committed in the country’s political prison camps (kwanliso), which hold an estimated 80,000 -120,000 prisoners, including children and family members of the accused. The government also maintains an extensive system of forced labor through its rigid controls over workers, and restricts the exercise of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, religion or belief, and movement.

There are no independent media in the country; all media are strictly censored and no deviation from the official government line is tolerated. The government allows no editorial freedom; all stories are centrally directed and reviewed to ensure that they are in line with the state ideology. The government also controls academic and cultural content. Authorities prohibit listening to foreign media broadcasts and take steps to jam foreign radio broadcasts. Various ministries are responsible for modifying television and radio equipment to prevent users from accessing material from overseas and other material deemed illegal by the government. Individuals accused of viewing foreign films are reportedly subject to imprisonment or even execution.

This report details aspects of the human rights situation in North Korea and the conduct of relevant persons, including those responsible for the commission of serious human rights abuses and censorship in the DPRK (see Annex A for a list of individuals associated with the below entities who are subject to designation for sanctions):

National Defense Commission: Until June 29, 2016,[1] the DPRK constitution provided that the National Defense Commission is the highest guiding organ of the military and the defense-building work of the State. The constitution provided the National Defense Commission with the powers to abrogate any decision of a state organ that is in conflict with its own decisions or directives. It was composed of ten individuals, including Kim Jong Un, who served as First Chairman and is the Suryong (“Supreme Leader”) of the DPRK, a position that has historically exercised absolute authority in the DPRK; according to the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK (the “COI”), the Suryong system embeds under the supreme leader all powers of the state, party, and military, including each of the entities described below.

According to the COI, since the accession of Kim Jong Un, there has been an increase in the number of executions of senior officials that “seem to have political purposes,” which the COI described as appearing to be linked to his consolidation of power. In certain instances, the executions were carried out in secret after the individuals were forcibly disappeared. The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HNRK) similarly reported in its report Pyongyang Republic that “the numerous and brutal executions of members of the power elite since Kim Jong Un took power are apparently being used by the regime to maximize the power elite’s fear of the young supreme leader.”

Per its mandate and in practice, the National Defense Commission exercised direct authority over entities responsible for some of the most pervasive and notorious human rights abuses in the DPRK, including those described below; the ministry of state security, ministry of public security, and the Korean People’s Army all reported directly to it, and these ministries’ respective ministers all sat on the commission.

According to the COI report, in January 2013, the ministry of public security issued a proclamation on behalf of the National Defense Commission urging that North Koreans report behavior to the security forces, including watching and distributing foreign television. The COI reports similar directives issued by the Supreme Leader through the National Defense Commission.

Organization and Guidance Department of the Korean Worker’s Party (OGD): The Organization and Guidance Department, a party oversight body, is possibly the most powerful organization inside the DPRK. According to the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, the OGD “oversees the efficacy of the internal security agencies . . . and inspects all official organizations on their mission of upholding regime security.” The Committee also reports that the OGD approves all policy, including policies pertaining to the abuse of human rights, and quotes Kim Il-sung as saying, “the OGD is the doctor and the [Korean Worker’s Party Propaganda and Agitation Department] is the medicine.”

The OGD is also instrumental in implementing the DPRK’s censorship policies. When a party official deviates from the official message in public remarks, the OGD will dispatch an official to monitor a self-criticism session. The OGD will also step in and assume oversight responsibilities over organizations undergoing party audits to inspect for ideological discipline.

The OGD also had a role in the disappearance of Pak Nam Gi, the former Director of the Finance and Planning Department, according to a report by the now deceased former 1st Director of the OGD Ri Je Gang.

Ministry of State Security (AKA State Security Department): The ministry reports directly to Kim Jong Un and the National Defense Commission.

It maintains a corps of tens of thousands of agents spread across numerous bureaus.

According to the COI report, the Ministry of State Security is implicated in “widespread gross human rights violations,” including those involving torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, deliberate starvation, and sexual violence. It is the lead agency investigating political crimes and administering the country’s network of political prison camps. In particular, the Prisons Bureau (also known as the “Farm Bureau” and “Bureau 7”) within the ministry manages the political prison camps. According to defector testimony and satellite imagery, within the camps, summary executions and other cruel extrajudicial punishments are commonplace. Additionally, according to extensive testimony, prisoners in these prison camps are subject to brutal treatment, torture, sexual violence, and forced abortions, and many succumb to starvation and disease.

The ministry also plays a role in censorship through the enforcement of laws banning foreign media. According to the COI report, Bureau 27 (also known as the Transmission Surveillance Bureau) is responsible for modifying television equipment to receive only approved North Korean channels and blocking television channels from the Republic of Korea (ROK), Russia, and China. The bureau also carries out surprise inspections in homes to investigate whether individuals have modified their radios or televisions, watched foreign DVDs or used foreign flash drives and uses monitoring equipment to identify individuals who use Chinese SIM cards.

Ministry of People’s Security: The Ministry of People’s Security (also known as the Ministry of Public Security) employs roughly 200,000 personnel. Its responsibilities include internal security, social control (such as songbun records and residency restrictions), and basic police functions, including riot suppression.

According to the COI, the Ministry of People’s Security is involved in gross violations of human rights. The correctional bureau within the ministry previously operated one of the country’s political prison camps (Camp 18) and continues to operate the majority of the country’s labor camps (kyohwaso) and other detention/interrogation facilities. Torture and other forms of abuse are reportedly employed regularly as tools of control in these camps.

Defectors have also reported the ministry regularly uses torture and other forms of abuse to extract confessions, including techniques involving sexual violence, hanging individuals from the ceiling for extended periods of time, prolonged periods of exposure, and severe beatings. According to the COI report, almost all of the more than 100 witnesses repatriated from China reported having been “beaten or subjected to worse forms of torture during interrogations” in detention centers run by the ministries of state security and people’s security. The COI also reports that inhumane detention conditions also exerted pressure on individuals to quickly confess to secure their survival.

The ministry also enforces the government’s censorship policies. According to the COI report, the Communication Maintenance Bureau is responsible for removing the radio components of cassette players (which are legal in the DPRK) to prevent users from listening to foreign broadcasts.

Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD): The Propaganda and Agitation Department controls all media in the country, which the government uses to control the public. Within the department, the Publication and Broadcasting Department controls all media content, including content used on television, in newspapers and on the radio. According to the COI report, this sub-agency distributes a “monthly plan for publication and report,” which directs content for the month, and all media outlets are required to build their work plan from it. All content then goes through several layers of review.

Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB): The Reconnaissance General Bureau reports directly to the National Defense Commission and is North Korea’s premier intelligence organ responsible for conducting clandestine operations abroad. It administratively is part of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces. The RGB has reportedly been involved with kidnapping and extrajudicial assassinations that span decades. According to HRNK, the Operations Department of the Korean Workers’ Party, the predecessor to RGB, was responsible for abducting South Korean and Japanese citizens. Moreover, the RGB has been associated with multiple assassination attempts, including the 1968 attempt on ROK President Park Chung-hee, the 1983 attempted assassination of ROK President Chun Doo-hwan that left 21 dead, and the 2010 attempt on high-ranking DPRK defector Hwang Jang-yeop.

[1] ROK and DPRK media reports indicate that on June 29, 2016, the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly, under the revised North Korean constitution, replaced the National Defense Commission with a Commission on State Affairs, with Kim Jong Un as its top chairman; we continue to assess those reports.


Annex A

National Defense Commission[2]

Kim Jong Un, First Chairman
Ri Yong Mu, Vice Chairman
O Kuk Ryol, Vice Chairman
Hwang Pyong So, Vice Chairman (1st Vice Director of the Organization and Guidance Department)
Choe Pu Il, Member (Minister of Public Security)
Pak Yong Sik, Member (former Ministry of Public Security Bureau Director and current Minister of the People’s Armed Forces)

Organization and Guidance Department

Jo Yon Jun, 1st Vice Director
Kim Kyong Ok, 1st Vice Director

Ministry of State Security

Kang Song Nam, Bureau Director
Prisons Bureau (in Ministry of State Security)

Ministry of People’s Security

Choe Chang Pong, Bureau Director
Ri Song Chol, Counselor
Correctional Bureau (in Ministry of People’s Security)

Propaganda and Agitation Department

Kim Ki Nam, Director
Ri Jae Il, 1st Vice Director

Reconnaissance General Bureau

Cho Il-U
O Chong-Kuk

[2] ROK and DPRK media reports indicate that on June 29, the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly, under the revised North Korean constitution, replaced the National Defense Commission with a Commission on State Affairs, with Kim Jong Un as its top chairman; we continue to assess those reports.