North Korea is one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world. In his sixth year in power, Kim Jong-un—the third leader of the dynastic Kim family and head of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) who exercises almost total political control—intensified repressive measures; tightened domestic restrictions on travel and unauthorized cross-border travel with China; and punished North Koreans for contacting the outside world. The government continued to generate fearful obedience from citizens by means of threatened and actual execution, detention, and forced labor under harsh, sometimes fatal, conditions.
During 2017, North Korea fired 23 missiles during 16 tests and conducted its sixth nuclear test, sending tensions between the US and its allies and North Korea to their highest level in decades. Personal insults and threats traded between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in September and October further worsened the situation.
On human rights, the international community continued to press for action on the findings of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) that found the government committed crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and forced abortion.
On December 9, 2016, for the third consecutive year, the UN Security Council put North Korea’s egregious human rights violations record on its formal agenda as a threat to international peace and security. On March 24, the Human Rights Council adopted without a vote a resolution that authorizes the hiring of “experts in legal accountability” to assess cases and develop plans for the eventual prosecution of North Korean leaders and officials responsible for crimes against humanity.
The North Korean government restricts all basic civil and political liberties for its citizens, including freedom of __EXPRESSION__, religion and conscience, assembly and association. It prohibits any organized political opposition, independent media and civil society, and free trade unions. Lack of an independent judiciary, arbitrary arrest and punishment of crimes, torture in custody, forced labor, and executions maintain fear and control.
North Korea discriminates against individuals and their families on political grounds in key areas such as employment, residence, and schooling by applying songbun, a socio-political classification system grouping people into “loyal,” “wavering,” or “hostile” classes. Pervasive corruption enables some room to maneuver around the strictures of the songbun system, and some people who bribe government officials can receive permission, pursue market activities, or travel domestically or abroad.