(ATTN: UPDATES with remarks from Secretary Blinken in paras 10-12)
By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, March 20 (Yonhap) -- North Korea continued to show no respect for basic human rights and freedoms of its people in 2022 while impunity for corruption continued to remain widespread, an annual U.S. report said Monday.
The 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices said the country had dozens of other human rights issues, ranging from unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government, torture, total state control of expression and media and serious restrictions on freedom of movement and residence to trafficking in persons and punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual.
North Korea or "the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is an authoritarian state led by the Kim family since 1949," says the report, noting leader Kim Jong-un has ruled the country since the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2011.
"The most recent national elections, held in 2019, were neither free nor fair," it added.
The annual report noted that the Kim family had no regard for human life, citing numerous reports that "the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings," while private citizens were often forced to attend public executions.
Torture and inhuman treatment of prisoners also remain rampant in the country, according to the report.
"The law prohibits torture or inhuman treatment, but many sources reported these practices continued. Numerous defector accounts and NGO reports described the use of torture by authorities in detention facilities," it said.
The U.S. report comes after Pyongyang threatened to take the "toughest counteraction" against a United Nations Security Council meeting held on North Korean human rights last week.
North Korea claims the U.S. report, along with other international efforts to bring attention to its human rights conditions, is a U.S.-led scheme to bring down its regime, calling it the most intensive expression of U.S. hostile policy toward Pyongyang.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the reports are not designed to lecture or shame others.
"Rather, it is to provide a resource for those individuals working around the world to safeguard and uphold human dignity when it's under threat, in so many ways," he told a press briefing.
"Human rights are universal. They aren't defined by any one country, philosophy, or region. They apply to everyone everywhere," he added. "And importantly, it applies the same standards to everyone -- our allies and partners and countries with which we have differences."
The state department said the country reports provide "factual, objective information based on credible reports of the events that occurred throughout 2022."
In 2022, only 67 North Korean defectors arrived in South Korea, compared with 1,047 in 2019, highlighting the severity of North Korea's COVID-19 border closure and the risks associated with defecting the country, the report said.
In China, however, as many as 2,000 North Korean escapees were believed to be held as illegal migrants who could be repatriated back to North Korea, the report noted, citing a report by the U.N. special rapporteur on North Korean human rights.
Corruption also continued to remain widespread in "all parts of the economy and society," according to the report.
"Verifiable information was not available on whether criminal penalties for official corruption were applied. International organizations widely reported senior officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity," it said.
Meanwhile, the country report on South Korea said there were "no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings."
Still, the report pointed to several human rights issues that faced the country, including restrictions on freedom of expression, citing the National Security Law (NSL), which criminalizes "actions interpreted to be in support of the DPRK or otherwise against the state."
"The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right," said the report.
"Nonetheless, the government's interpretation and implementation of the NSL and other laws and provisions of the constitution limited freedom of speech and expression, and restricted access to the internet," it added.
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