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(LEAD) U.S. calls out N. Korea's 'significant' human rights issues

All News 05:43 March 12, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with report on South Korea in last 5 paras)
By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, March 11 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. State Department called out North Korea on Wednesday for "significant" human rights issues ranging from arbitrary killings to torture and severe restrictions on religious freedom.

In the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the department described North Korea as an authoritarian state led by the Kim family since 1949, where the authorities maintain "effective control" over the security forces.

A long list of "significant human rights issues" cites unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearances by the government, torture by authorities and arbitrary detentions by security forces.

This AFP file photo shows the U.S. Department of State in Washington. (Yonhap)

This AFP file photo shows the U.S. Department of State in Washington. (Yonhap)

It continues to say that prison conditions are harsh and life-threatening, including in political prison camps, judicial independence is lacking, and restrictions are in place on free expression, freedom of association, religious freedom, freedom of movement and political participation.

"The government took no credible steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses," the 2019 report says, pointing also to widespread corruption, coerced abortion, trafficking in persons, the use of forced or compulsory child labor, as well as the imposition of forced labor conditions on North Korean workers overseas.

"As of year's end, the government still had not accounted for the circumstances that led to the death of Otto Warmbier, who had been held in unjust and unwarranted detention by the authorities, and who died soon after his release in 2017," the report states, referring to the American college student who was detained by the regime for allegedly trying to steal a political poster during a visit to Pyongyang.

Two years ago, the department labeled North Korea a "force of instability" along with China, Russia and Iran, and accused the regime of "egregious" human rights abuses.

A year later, in the 2018 report, the department removed the word "egregious" and made no mention of the regime in the preface, where it had previously been called a force of instability.

Those terms remained absent for the second consecutive year in Wednesday's report.

In South Korea, the department said, "significant human rights issues" included the existence of criminal libel laws, laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults in the military, and corruption.

The Military Service Act prohibiting homosexual sex led to abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex soldiers, according to nongovernmental organizations cited by the department.

As examples of corruption, the reported highlighted the February 2019 police raid of the nightclub, Burning Sun, which resulted in the arrest of police officers for abuse of power and bribe-taking in connection with covering up sexual assaults at the club.

The report also cited the October 2019 resignation of then-Justice Minister Cho Kuk following allegations that he and his family used his position to gain unfair academic benefits and investment returns.


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