UN reveals rights abuse at thriving markets in North Korea

Human rights officer Daniel Collinge, right, speaks as representative of OHCHR in Seoul or Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul, Signe Poulsen, left, listens during a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. North Koreans working in hundreds of thriving markets that sprung up with the failure of the country's public system for distributing basic goods are often abused and forced to resort to bribery to survive, according to a U.N. report released Tuesday. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Human rights officer Daniel Collinge speaks during a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. North Koreans working in hundreds of thriving markets that sprung up with the failure of the country's public system for distributing basic goods are often abused and forced to resort to bribery to survive, according to a U.N. report released Tuesday. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

SEOUL, South Korea — North Koreans working in hundreds of thriving markets that sprung up with the failure of the country's public system for distributing basic goods are often abused and forced to resort to bribery to survive, according to a U.N. report released Tuesday.

North Korea is officially socialist but has overlooked some market activities since the public rationing system collapsed amid an economic crisis and devastating famine in the mid-1990s.

Poor state reform measures and a broadly worded criminal code, however, mean that officials are able to extort money and other favors from people working at the informal markets by using the threat of arrest and detention, the U.N. Human Rights Office said in a report.

"People in (North Korea) are trapped in a vicious cycle, in which the failure of the state to provide for life's basic necessities forces them to turn to rudimentary markets where they face a host of human rights violations in an uncertain legal environment," the U.N. office said in a separate news release.

The U.N. office said its report is based on 214 first-hand accounts of North Koreans who escaped from their homeland and resettled in South Korea. It said a majority of its interviewees left North Korea after current leader Kim Jong Un took power in late 2011.

The U.N. office said it has no access to North Korea to independently investigate its human rights condition. North Korea is extremely sensitive to any outside criticism of its rights record, calling it a provocation aimed at slandering its government, which has been run by the same family for about 70 years.

After its public distribution system broke down, North Korea took steps to legalize and regulate some of its thriving markets. The steps include charging rent for stalls, controlling prices and monitoring what products are for sale in markets.

The government steps have not been deep-rooted and lack adequate measures to accommodate market activities, enabling officials to use laws on managing the socialist economy to criminalize a wide range of commercial activities, according to the report. It said there is also an absence of the rule of law and due process guarantees in North Korea and that a justice system serves to legitimize human rights violations.

"The report finds that in effect, this threat of arbitrary arrests and harsh consequences that follow provide state officials with powerful means to secure bribes from a vulnerable population seeking to eke out the existence of rudimentary market activity," Daniel Collinge, a U.N. human rights officer, told reporters in Seoul. "The financial hardships of the struggling population are thereby compounded as money is extorted systematically to support state officials."

The report said North Korean officials are increasingly using bribery to support their low or nonexistent salaries. Some North Korean refugees said they worked at markets after paying bribes and freeing themselves from their state-run companies, which are struggling to operate, the report said.

"The state is no longer able to supply the materials to factories or to distribute the manufactured goods, so they rely on people like myself to perform these functions," the report cited a former North Korean, one of its interviewees, as saying.

Other News

Fidel Castro thanks Cuba, criticizes Obama, on 90th birthday

Aug 14, 2016

Fidel Castro thanked Cubans for their well-wishes on his 90th birthday and criticized President Barack Obama in a lengthy letter published in state media

Insurers continue to abandon ACA exchanges, limiting choice

Aug 16, 2016

Aetna will abandon for next year Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges in more than two-thirds of the counties where it sells coverage, making it the latest major health insurer to cuts choices in many markets

Dominican leader assumes 2nd term, pledges tech revolution

Aug 16, 2016

The president of the Dominican Republic has been sworn in for a second term as leader of the country boasting the best economic grown in Latin America and the Caribbean

The Budget Report seeks to provide comprehensive coverage and analysis on the current economic, financial issues around the world. First hand finance and economic news all day, every day.

Contact us: sales@thebudgetreport.com