“There is no excuse”: The international community must finish the work of holding North Korea to account

Content warning: This blog contains descriptions of rape, sexual violence and violence against infants


By Benedict Rogers

Almost exactly twenty years ago, CSW began to investigate the human rights situation in North Korea, and in particular the persecution of Christians.

It is fair to say that we were one of the very first human rights organisations to sound the alarm about the gravity and scale of human rights atrocities in the world’s most closed and most repressed nation.

The tragedy is that twenty years on, little has changed and the world continues to turn a blind eye.

Dislodging the bricks

In 2007 we published one of the first and most comprehensive studies of the atrocity crimes in North Korea, in a report titled North Korea: A Case to Answer, a Call to Act. In so doing, we became one of the first organisations to call for the establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity.

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North Korea and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region: Grim parallels in two of the most repressive parts of the world

On 3 March the China-focused information platform SupChina published translated extracts from a 16-hour discussion in a “room” on the app Clubhouse called “Is there a concentration camp in Xinjiang?” The room attracted an incredible 4,000 participants, but the truly remarkable thing about the conversation was that it brought together Uyghurs and Han Chinese people – both inside and outside China – in a space momentarily beyond government restrictions.

Reliable information about what is happening to the Uyghurs is heavily censored in China; the only news about the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is from state media, which paints Uyghurs as either potential terrorists or grateful recipients of the government’s “re-education” programme.

Before it was banned, Clubhouse briefly provided a brand-new channel for open discussion of one of the most sensitive issues in China today. SupChina described the conversation as “historic,” and it was; historic, moving, tragic and illuminating.

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The COVID-19 pandemic could be an opportunity to save North Korean lives, if Moon Jae-In takes action

By Benedict Rogers

North Korea is ruled by the world’s most repressive, most brutal regime – one which does not allow any freedom whatsoever, one which violates every single article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights every day. It is also the world’s most closed nation – extremely difficult to get in or out of. Those who do visit – as I have done once – are tightly monitored and controlled, while those who try to leave the country without permission face imprisonment, torture and even execution if caught.

The COVID-19 pandemic has served to tighten the restrictions on access even further. Like many countries dealing with coronavirus, North Korea has sealed its borders. Britain’s embassy in Pyongyang has been closed since 27 May, with Ambassador Colin Crooks stating on his Twitter page: “Working from London pending my return to Pyongyang.” And last week, the North Korean regime warned its citizens to stay indoors over fears that a “yellow dust” blowing in from China could bring coronavirus with it. The so-called “hermit kingdom” has become the “hermetically sealed” nation.

And yet this offers a rare opportunity to save lives, because due to its COVID-19 restrictions, North Korea has told China it will not receive repatriation of North Korean escapees. In normal times, China has a policy of forcibly returning North Koreans who escape across its border, sending them back to face certain torture, detention and in some cases execution – in flagrant breach of the international principle of ‘non-refoulement.’ Now, Kim Jong-Un’s regime says it does not want them.

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Instead of gossiping about the Kim dynasty, the world should focus on North Korea’s human rights atrocities

By Benedict Rogers

One of the very few non-COVID-19 stories that hit the headlines last month was the rumoured near-death of North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-Un. For almost three weeks the speculation grew that he was dying or had died, and the discussion around who would succeed him reached near-fever pitch. Would it be his sister Kim Yo-jong? But would conservative North Korea be ready for a female leader? Would it be a senior military leader? But then what would that do to the regime’s credibility in the eyes of the North Korean people, if the Kim dynastic succession was broken?

But then, almost as mysteriously as he disappeared, the man known as “the Dear Leader” re-emerged, opening a fertilizer plant outside Pyongyang. Precisely what had happened remains known only to the core leadership of the world’s most secretive state. There was no shortage of rumours. It was suggested that he may have had surgery, that he may have had coronavirus, that he may simply have escaped Pyongyang to avoid infection and even that he had been injured in a missile test. But will we ever know?

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Save North Korean Refugees Day: Time to End China’s Illegal and Horrific Treatment of North Korean Escapees

Save North Korean Refugees Day, which falls on 24 September, aims to highlight the terrible trials faced by North Korean refugees in China.

It also marks the day, 36 years ago, that China became a signatory to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, an agreement the country continues to violate through its treatment of North Korean escapees.

China’s forced repatriation of North Korean refugees is illegal as it violates the fundamental international humanitarian principle of ‘non-refoulement’, which prohibits receiving countries from returning refugees to a country where they would likely face persecution due to their “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.

And yet, that is exactly what they are being sent back to: North Korea is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, referred to by the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry as “a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world” in terms of human rights violations. CSW’s 2016 report previously revealed that deported escapees regularly face execution, torture, arbitrary detention, deliberate starvation, illegal cavity searches, forced abortions, and other sexual violence at the hands of the North Korean authorities.

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