When a bombshell United Nations report on North Korean human rights abuses came out in February and concluded that the country was committing human rights violations “without any parallel in the contemporary world," Pyongyang's initial reaction was anger.
First, one North Korean spokesperson said that the United States and its allies were running a "human rights racket." Then, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) published a commentary questioning how a gay man could lead an investigation into human rights. To top it all off, North Korea then published its own investigation into the United States' human rights violations. It concluded: "The U.S. is a living hell."
Now, North Korea has decided to take a different tact. This week, North Korea's Association for Human Rights Studies published a lengthy report that looked at the country's human rights situation. In a remarkable act of openness, the entire document (53,558 words including appendix) has been published, in English, on the KCNA Web site.
It's a grueling read. The report opens by explaining the geography and history of Korea. It goes on to try to define the very notion of human rights, while also explaining that state sovereignty is a form of human rights (something the report says Koreans learned while under Japanese rule, living a "miserable life worse than a dog of a family having funeral").
Later, it talks about how North Korean human rights developed. It proudly talks about 11-year compulsory education system, it's gender-equality legislation, and its labor regulation that saw the introduction of eight-hour days. The basic human rights inscribed in the North Korean constitution are listed:
The right to elect and be elected (Article 66)
The right to freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, demonstration and association. (Article 67)
The freedom of religious beliefs (Article 68)
The right of complaints and petitions (Article 69)
Inviolability of personal liberty and home and privacy of correspondence (Article 79)
The right of freedom of residence and travel (Article 75)
The right to protection of marriage and family (Article 78)
The socio-economic and cultural rights are as follows:
The right to work (Article 70)
The right to rest (Article 71)
The right to free medical care and social security (Article 72)
The right to education (Article 73)
The right to freedom in scientific, literary and artistic pursuits (Article 74)
The rights of specific groups are as follows:
The people who have made contributions to the country and people have the right to special care of the state and society (Article 76)
Equal social status and rights with men (Article 77, Paragraph 1)
The right of mothers and children to get special protection. (Article 77, Paragraph 2)
The DPRK shall grant the right of asylum to foreign nationals persecuted for struggling for peace and democracy, national independence and socialism or for the freedom of scientific and cultural pursuits. (Article 80)
In addition to these, the report later lists a number of "civil rights," including the right to fair trial, the right to not be subjected to slavery, and the right to not be tortured.
The report argues that North Koreans really do enjoy "genuine human rights," and lays the blame for international condemnation at the door of the United States, the European Union, Japan and South Korea. A statement that accompanied the release of the report said that North Korean citizens "feel proud of the world's most advantageous human rights system."
Anyone who read the U.N. report may disagree, however. There is no mention of allegations that North Korea conducts surveillance on its citizens, for example, or that the state will discriminate against them based on supposed ideological problems. On the reports that North Korea will imprison citizens in labor camps for their political beliefs and torture or even kill them, the report dismisses the evidence, saying the testimonies about the camps were made by "riffraffs," "fugitives" and "terrorists."
There is also no mention made of Matthew Miller, an American recently sentenced to six years of hard labor for “hostile acts,” after he reportedly ripped up his tourist visa upon arrival at the Pyongyang airport.
The report seems to know it won't convince anyone. In a coda, North Korea argues that what its report is the absolute truth, no matter what anyone thinks:
This Report just showed the glimpse of the reality. How to accept the truth here depends on the views of people. What’s clear here is that truth always remains as it is and it won’t lose its nature even though it is sometimes denied or fabricated.
This Report is based on the objective truth. Due to limited space and lack of ability of the writers, some information in the Report might not have adequate bases.