North Korea Must be Held Accountable for its Abysmal Human Rights Record

Dec 22, 2014


December 22, 2014 | USCIRF

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today welcomed the UN General Assembly’s passage on December 18 of a resolution that condemns North Korea’s “ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights” and transmits a UN report on these violations to the Security Council.  The UN’s annual resolution on human rights in North Korea passed by a 116-20 vote, with 53 abstentions. 

North Korea is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, with a deplorable record on human rights and religious freedom,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF Chair.  “Many have been arrested, tortured, and executed, and thousands are imprisoned in North Korea’s notorious penal labor camps, including refugees wrongly repatriated from China.  The UN General Assembly acted appropriately by overwhelmingly approving a resolution that calls global attention to North Korea’s gross violation of rights.

The resolution recommends targeted sanctions against those responsible for human rights abuses. Further, it calls for North Korea to be referred to the International Criminal Court. Both recommendations are new additions to a resolution that the General Assembly has passed annually for nearly a decade.  They are part of the UN Commission of Inquiry’s February report which details the North Korean government’s grave human rights abuses and condemns North Korea for having no “parallel in the contemporary world.”  The report found “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association.”

USCIRF commends those willing to stand up for human rights in North Korea and around the world.  Those countries that refuse to condemn North Korea are on the wrong side of both history and humanity.  North Korea must be held accountable for its longstanding human rights violations,” said Lantos Swett.

North Korea’s government severely restricts religious freedom other than activities of officially recognized groups.  Those attempting to practice their faith outside these officially sanctioned channels -- such as through underground churches -- face arrest, beatings, torture or death.  Religious prisoners in North Korea’s infamous penal labor camps – who constitute as many as 15,000 out of the estimated 150,000-200,000 total prisoners – reportedly are treated worse than other inmates and are subject to abuse to compel forced renunciations of faith.  While North Korea is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among other international treaties, the government clearly neither recognizes nor respects these obligations in principle or practice.

USCIRF’s 2014 Annual Report recommends North Korea be designated a “country of particular concern” (CPC) for its systematic, egregious and ongoing religious freedom violations, a recommendation the Commission has consistently made for more than a decade.  The U.S. Department of State has designated North Korea as a CPC repeatedly since 2001, most recently in July 2014.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at or 202-786-0613.