The U.N. human rights office released a report Tuesday showing women in North Korea faced violent human rights abuses in prison after being forcibly returned to the country when seeking employment abroad.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report cites testimony from more than 100 women who escaped after their detention. Detainees described unsanitary conditions in prisons and gender-based violence including rape and forced abortion by guards.
“There were two pregnant women, three months and five months pregnant, who were kicked very badly so that they would have lost their baby by the time they left the facility,” one of the women said.
Tuesday’s new report is the newest document illuminating systemic human rights abuses taking place in North Korea. The country has been repeatedly criticized for abuses in the past and has been sanctioned for violating human rights and threatening to use nuclear attacks against other nations.
Women who testified in the report were often victims of human trafficking as they desperately attempted to escape North Korea. Many faced labor and sexual exploitation.
“It is heartbreaking to read these stories of women who fled their country looking to make ends meet, but who ended up being punished,” High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in a statement. “These women have a right to justice, truth and reparation.”
North Korea did not immediately respond to this report but has said in the past that criticism of its human rights record was aimed at overthrowing its current regime.
Along with the report, the U.N. human rights office also urged countries to which the women fled, including China, to respect the principle of “non-refoulement,” meaning not deporting people to countries where they could face a real threat of human rights abuses.
Detainees were tortured more severely if they had visited churches while abroad, a witness recounted.
“If one is found to have gone to a South Korean church while staying in China, they are dead,” the woman said. “I therefore tried hard not to reveal my life in China. I was beaten up as a result. I was beaten to a level that my rib was broken. I still feel the pain.”
Sources: Time 07/28/20; Reuters 07/28/20; DW 07/28/20