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Excerpts from 2014 UN Report on Human Rights in North Korea: History of North Korea and Emergence of Kim Dynasty

June 12, 2018

(For full Document, click here.)

On 21 March 2013, at its 22nd session, the United Nations Human Rights Council established the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Human Rights Council Resolution 22/13 mandated the body to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the DPRK, with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular, for violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.

Among the violations to be investigated were those pertaining to the right to food, those associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, freedom of expression, the right to life, freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states. …

Resolution 22/13 urges the Government of the DPRK to cooperate fully with the Commission’s investigation, to permit the Commission’s members unrestricted access to visit the country and to provide them with all information necessary to enable them to fulfil their mandate. Immediately after its adoption, the DPRK publicly stated that it would “totally reject and disregard” the resolution, which it considered to be a “product of political confrontation and conspiracy. In a letter dated 10 May 2013, the DPRK directly conveyed to the President of the Human Rights Council that it “totally and categorically rejects the Commission of Inquiry. Regrettably, this stance has remained unchanged, despite numerous efforts by the Commission to engage the DPRK. …

The Commission reiterated its request to have access to the territory of the DPRK in a letter sent on 16 July 2013 to Mr Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader and First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This letter was unanswered.

The Commission also invited the authorities of the DPRK to send a representative or representatives to scrutinize the evidence and to make submissions during public hearings held by the Commission in Seoul, London and Washington D.C. There was no response to these invitations. …

Before publication, the Commission shared the findings of this report, in their entirety, with the Government of the DPRK and invited comments and factual corrections. A summary of the most serious concerns, in particular those indicating the commission of crimes against humanity, was also included in a letter addressed to the Supreme Leader of the DPRK, Mr Kim Jong-un. To the date of writing of this report, there has been no response. …


During its first meeting in the first week of July 2013, the Commission determined its methodology and programme of work. The Commission decided to pursue the investigation with a maximum of transparency and with due process guarantees to the DPRK, while also ensuring the protection of victims and witnesses.

In carrying out its work, and in assessing the testimony placed before it, the Commission was guided by the principles of independence, impartiality, objectivity, transparency, integrity and the principle of do no harm, including in relation to guarantees of confidentiality and the protection of victims and witnesses. Best practices were applied with regard to witness protection, outreach, rules of procedure, report writing, international investigation standards, and archiving.


In the absence of access to witnesses and sites inside the DPRK, the Commission decided to obtain first-hand testimony through public hearings that observed transparency, due process and the protection of victims and witnesses. Victims and witnesses who had departed the DPRK, as well as experts, testified in a transparent procedure that was open to the media, other observers and members of the general public. More than 80 witnesses and experts testified publicly and provided information of great specificity, detail and relevance, sometimes in ways that required a significant degree of courage.

Public hearings were conducted in Seoul (20-24 August 2013), Tokyo (29-30 August 2013), London (23 October 2013) and Washington, D.C. (30-31 October 2013). The authorities of the Republic of Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America provided operational and substantive support for the conduct of the public hearings, including by facilitating the identification and hiring of a venue, assisting in the provision of the services of professional interpreters and providing videorecording and transcripts of the proceedings. They also ensured the security of the hearings and facilitated contact with the national and international press corps and relevant civil society organizations and individuals. …

The Commission invited the authorities of the DPRK to attend and, by leave, to ask questions and make representations at the public hearings in Seoul, London and Washington D.C., but received no reply. Instead, the official news agency of DPRK publicly accused the Commission of slander and claimed that witness testimony was fabricated. The Commission repeatedly invited the DPRK to adduce proof of its claims, but received no reply. It also put these claims to witnesses so that they could respond in their own words. Video recordings and transcripts from all public hearings are available on the Commission’s website. The Commission has encouraged members of the public to study the recordings and transcripts in order to form their own opinions of the reliability and consistency of the witness testimony.


Many victims and witnesses who fled the DPRK were prepared to share relevant information, but would not do so publicly as they feared reprisals against family members who still remain in the DPRK. Persons who previously served in an official capacity in the DPRK were often particularly reluctant to be seen to cooperate publicly with the Commission. Some experts on the situation in the DPRK also preferred to be interviewed confidentially in order to preserve space for their direct engagement with the DPRK.

The Commission and its Secretariat conducted over 240 confidential interviews with individual witnesses. These interviews were conducted during visits to Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok, London, and Washington, D.C. and through videoconferences and telephone calls. …

The Commission also obtained clandestinely-recorded videos and photographs showing relevant sites, documents and correspondence that elucidated alleged violations of human rights in the DPRK. The Commission relied on such material to the extent that it could confirm its authenticity.

The Commission is conscious of the fact that most victims and witnesses cooperating with the Commission had an overall unfavourable opinion of the DPRK’s authorities, though usually not of the country itself or its people. Through its refusal to cooperate with the Commission, the DPRK deprived itself of the opportunity to offer its own perspectives on the human rights situation and to provide information on any advances made in regard to the human rights of its population. …


The DPRK is often referred to as the “Hermit Kingdom” suggesting that the insularity of the North has been characteristic since its beginnings. The largely self-imposed relative isolation of the DPRK today is not, however, an extension of the earlier experiences of pre-modern Korea. It is believed that humans inhabited the Korean peninsula since Neolithic times, with the eventual emergence of settled communities based on agricultural production that led to enough surplus for horses, weapons and armies to sustain centuries of legends of epic battles among various indigenous kingdoms and against outside forces from modern-day China, Japan and Mongolia.

Over the course of pre-modern history, Korea established a class-based system whereby a small aristocratic elite, combining elements of a landed gentry and scholar-officials, eventually to be known as the yangban, ruled over peasants and lower classes that included merchants and labourers. Slavery and indentured servitude were also practised. This class-based system is sometimes characterized as feudal and perhaps more accurately as agrarian-bureaucratic. In theory, this system conferred elite status on men who had passed a rigorous civil service exam and were awarded high-level bureaucratic positions, somewhat analogous to the mandarin system in China. Over time, the yangban became, in practice, a hereditary institution through the family registry system that passed on elite status through the generations, with its self-perpetuating privileges including the right to participate in local councils. …

(Post-WWII Divided Korea and Soviets’ Ushering in Kim Regime)

By 1946, the Soviet Civil Administration devolved authority to the local administration. Kim Il-sung was made head of the Provisional People’s Committee of North Korea. There was less resistance to the Soviet Union’s influence in the North than there was to the United States in the South. In March 1946, the Provisional People’s Committee issued a Land Reform Law which was signed by Kim Il-sung. Land belonging to Japanese entities and individuals as well as large landowners was confiscated and redistributed to former peasant tenants. The land reform in the North was generally successful and helped to strengthen the position of the new regime. In August 1946, the Provisional People’s Committee nationalized industry. Technically, only Japanese owners and Korean collaborators were subject to confiscation, but this effectively included all large and most medium sized industries. Efforts to promote national culture and education were also popular with the people. In 1947, the DPRK launched its first economic plan.

At the top, this early period was marked by intense factional jockeying for power that continued for over a decade. Kim Il-sung began to consolidate his power by placing his supporters, the young guerrillas who had fought with him against Japan in Manchuria—the Guerrilla Faction, into positions of power and purging those who posed a threat to his assumption of authority. In 1946, former Soviet police officer Pang Hak-se was appointed to head the Section on Political Defence of the state within the Security Department, which was the first organization for the political police and counter-intelligence. Pang Hak-se is credited as the founder of the North Korean political police. Despite coming from the Soviet Korean Faction, and not from Kim Il-sung’s own Guerrilla Faction, he maintained lifelong loyalty to him.

Although Kim Il-sung was by most accounts an accomplished guerrilla fighter, he quickly began to bolster his standing through enhancement of his personal record and engendering a cult of personality that has come to characterize the governance of the DPRK and the state’s approach towards freedom of information, opinion and expression. …

Between 1945 and 1948, the 38th parallel turned into a heavily guarded border, while both sides of the divided peninsula contemplated the use of military force to achieve reunification. Tensions and military provocations increased after the respective departures of Soviet and United States forces in 1948. On 25 June 1950, Kim Il-sung, after finally securing support from both Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, initiated the Korean War by sending up to 90,000 Korean People’s Army troops over the 38th parallel in a multi-pronged attack that surprised both the ROK authorities and their United States advisors. Kim Il-sung was staking his claim to the leadership of the entire peninsula based on the perceived illegitimacy of the ROK leadership and expectations of insurgency in the South. … On 27 June 1950, President Truman ordered United States air and naval forces to support the ROK. …

The Korean War ended in 1953 in a ceasefire. On 27 July 1953, the Armistice Agreement was signed by Lieutenant General of the United States Army William K. Harrison, Jr., for the United Nations Command, and General of the Korean People’s Army Nam Il for the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers. Over 2 million Koreans had been killed. Around 600,000 Chinese and over 36,000 United States combatants died. … 

United States military historian S.L.A. Marshall called the Korean War the “century’s nastiest little war”. It has also been referred to as the Forgotten War in the United States. The conflict, however, is far from forgotten in the DPRK where the war sacrifices were used to bolster the narrative of Kim Il-sung’s “forging of the nation”. In the DPRK, the authorized history remains that the Fatherland Liberation War was started by the United States, and that Kim Il-sung not only defended the nation but wrought devastation on the American military. This rhetoric continued for decades. For example, food aid from the United States provided during the mass starvation in the 1990s was reportedly explained to the population as war reparations.

The legacy of the Korean War remains unresolved. … There has not been a comprehensive peace treaty. On both sides of the border, there remains fear of invasion and infiltration. In the DPRK, this fear has been instrumental in maintaining a state of emergency invoked to justify harsh governmental rule and its accompanying human rights violations. In this context, perceived political dissidents have been branded as spies in the service of foreign powers. Shortages in food and other essential means of survival have been blamed on a hostile outside world. …


While Confucian principles have remained enmeshed in Korean culture, in the North they were in many ways instrumentalized by Kim Il-sung in the effort to consolidate his authority and that of the Workers’ Party of Korea under his control. The relationship between sovereign and subject that is enunciated as a mutually binding one under traditional Confucian precepts has been stretched to one of absolute obedience to the leader as articulated in the suryong, or Supreme Leader, system established by Kim Il-sung and carried on under Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un. The “Mandate of Heaven”, a Confucian principle, is the right to rule granted to ancient Korean rulers by the gods. This mandate conveyed obligations on rulers to rule justly and fairly and for the benefit of all the people. The Suryong system positioned Kim Il-sung (and his heir apparent) as unchallenged rulers due to their proclaimed wisdom and benevolence under which the general population would live in a prosperous and righteous society. In this way, the suryong system has facilitated the unchecked violation of human rights in the DPRK. …

From the early days of the DPRK, Kim Il-sung and the Workers’ Party of Korea had employed the law and the justice system for purposes of maintaining the Party’s supremacy and suppressing political dissent.

…The Criminal Code currently in use defines “Crimes against the state or the people” (called anti-revolutionary crimes in the past) in such broad and vague terms that the exercise of any number of human rights can be prosecuted as a crime. … Decisions of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the Supreme Leader are generally considered to override formal laws.

(Insular-Hampered Economy)

In the mid-1970s, per capita GNP in South and North Korea was about the same. Once assistance from outside dried up the DPRK did not have the skills or the political will to address its deeply rooted economic problems. For a brief period in the 1970s, the DPRK attempted to borrow funds from the international community. However, the state had no plans on how to re-pay these debts or how to invest these resources into the development of the country. The DPRK went into default on billions of dollars and was unable to borrow further. The choices that the leadership made over the years led to serious food shortages long before the famine of the 1990s. Recurring patterns of shortages are reported as early as 1945-46, 1954-55 and 1970-73. Survival of the political system and its leadership rather than systemic economic development or concern about feeding its population appears to have been the priority of the DPRK leadership.


Kim Jong-il spent 20 years preparing for his succession to power. According to reports, it had actually been his uncle, Kim Yong-chu, his father’s younger brother, who had been the original presumptive heir to Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il was eventually able to side-line his uncle and win the confidence of his father particularly through his efforts to expand the cult of personality of Kim Il-sung. It was really in 1972 that the intensity of the cult of personality of Kim Il-sung surpassed those of Mao Zedong or Joseph Stalin. DPRK citizens began to wear badges with his picture in addition to hanging his portrait on their walls. …

Once the Central Committee elected Kim Jong-il to membership of the Politburo and endorsed his selection as Kim Il-sung’s heir in 1974, he deepened the ideological basis of the Suryong system. Kim Jong-il announced the “Ten Principles in Establishing Party’s Monolithic Ideological System” which called for “unconditional obedience” and “all our loyalty” to Kim Il-sung. … The “Central Party” was understood to mean Kim Jong-il. …

Kim Il-sung died in 1994 at the age of 82. In 1997, Kim Jong-il further consolidated his grip on the state security apparatus when he transformed the Social Safety Agency into the Ministry of People’s Security and expanded the overall apparatus. On the basis of these changes, the state security apparatus expanded into a system that rested on five pillars. These continue to be in place under the present Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. …

In many cases, the three main security agencies—State Security Department, Ministry of People’s Security and Military Security Command—competed to show their efficiency in identifying ideological opponents to gain favour with Kim Jong-il. In relation to incidents or issues seen as major political threats, the Supreme Leader or central-level decision-making organs required security agencies to coordinate their investigations. There are reports that semi-permanent structures were set up by secret order of Kim Jong-il and maintained under Kim Jong-un. …

…The DPRK embarked on a quest to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The DPRK presently has the world’s fourth largest standing army with 1.2 million active troops and 7.1 to 8.3 million in paramilitary reserves. It is believed that the DPRK’s military capability has been steadily decreasing due to obsolescence of equipment, difficulty in training, and lowering of standards for soldiers following the overall decline in nutritional status of the population and its subsequent impact on the height of prospective recruits. As the DPRK has experienced this decrease in capability, it has responded by focusing on the development of nuclear weapons and other “asymmetrical forces” such as special operations forces, chemical and biological weapons, and mini-submarines. Reportedly, the DPRK has one of the world’s largest stocks of chemical weapons. In addition to destabilizing security in the region and further isolating the DPRK, the drive to be a nuclear state has had profound consequences on resource allocation in the DPRK particularly as parts of the population were already reported to be food insecure for some time. …

Between 1996 and 1999, it is estimated that between 450,000 and 2 million people starved to death.

One of the unintended consequences of the human-made famine was the widespread emergence of informal markets. It is estimated that informal economic activities reached 78 per cent of total income for North Korean households a decade after the famine. As the Public Distribution System was no longer able to provide even minimal amounts of food, the authorities were unable to exercise the level of control they had once been able to. The breakdown of social control led to fissures in the blockade on information from outside the country. At the same time, control on the freedom of movement was loosened as large numbers of people attempted to escape from the DPRK and others sought to obtain supplies from China to trade. As many more North Koreans travelled back and forth to China, they were seeing for themselves the relative prosperity of China and received information about the ROK (South Korea) which was vastly different from the official propaganda of the government. The leadership made numerous efforts to rein in the markets and constrain the freedom of movement. These measures met with various levels of resistance. …

Following his stroke [in 2008], Kim Jong-il began to focus more explicitly on the issue of his succession. Until 2001, his first-born son, Kim Jong-nam, had been presumed to be heir-apparent when with several family members he attempted to enter Japan on fake Dominican passports. In early 2009, the official propaganda organs started mentioning the “New Star General”. Formal evidence of the selection of Kim Jong-un as Kim Jong-il’s heir apparent only emerged in 2010. … On 19 December 2011, the government announced that Kim Jong-il had died two days earlier. Dynastic succession promptly moved to the third generation of Kim Il-sung’s family. It appears that this transition occurred without any formal democratic process or effective engagement with the people of the DPRK. …

After assuming supreme power in the DPRK, Kim Jong-un expressed his desire to revive the country’s economy.

The Commission has met with credible international sources who have remarked on increased signs of prosperity in Pyongyang in the past couple of years. They cite the increased use of mobile phones in the DPRK (albeit without international access), believed to number up to 2 million subscribers, as well as the prevalence of new vehicles on the formerly quiet streets. They marvel at the opening of new restaurants which appear to be well-frequented. Some observers have been noting what could be modernizing trends in the DPRK from Kim Jong-un appearing publicly with his wife in contrast to his father and grandfather, the brief appearance of an unlicensed Mickey Mouse dancing with an unlicensed Winnie the Pooh at a state-sponsored musical performance, and the commercial launching of the country’s own home-grown tablet computer. Kim Jong-un himself has also been promoting sports in the DPRK by making public appearances at various athletic events.

At the same time, there has been a clampdown on the country’s borders since Kim Jong-un’s succession to power. The number of North Koreans who have reached the ROK fell significantly in 2012 and 2013. The Commission has received reports of the use of blackmail and coercion against those who have

left the country, including threats to family members in the DPRK to entice them to return to the DPRK. Certainly, a number of Koreans who have returned to the DRPK from the ROK have appeared on state television to express their apparent remorse for leaving and voicing criticism of life in the South. Other control measures that have been reported include Kim Jong-un placing new limits on privately-funded education abroad by elite families.

The sudden execution of Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle, in December 2013, appears to be part of Kim Jong-un’s consolidation process. Jang Song-thaek had been considered the “control tower”, due to his role as a guide to the new leader, and was widely considered to be second-in-command within the DPRK power structure. He was the husband of the sister of Kim Jong-il and daughter of Kim Il-sung. Her condition was uncertain at the time this report was finished.

IMG_1105  Kim Jong-Un


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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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