Published: Sat, November 03, 2018
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

United States and South Korea to decide fate of future drills after review

United States and South Korea to decide fate of future drills after review

Sexual abuse by North Korean officials appears to be "endemic", a watchdog group reported on Thursday, as activists complain the isolated country's rights record is being ignored as an worldwide push is made to improve relations.

Almost everyone in North Korea is subject to abuse by the brutal Communist regime, but the report argues women are exceptionally vulnerable because corrupt soldiers and government officials demand sexual favors as bribes.

The officials could declare the women's travel and trading illegal on a whim, confiscate their goods and even send them to prison, the report said.

North Korea attempts to portray itself as a socialist paradise free of crime, and in a submission to the United Nations past year said only five people were convicted of rape in 2015 and seven in 2011.

"My life was in his hands, so I did everything he wanted".

"I realized things that happened (in North Korea) might have constituted sexual violence and harassment, or rape after I left North Korea", said Lee So-yeon, head of the New Korea Women's Union, at a press conference Thursday in central Seoul.

Human Rights Watch says the 98-page report took two years to compile, with witness statements and first-hand accounts of sexual abuse and violence gathered from people all across Asia who had managed to escape from North Korea.

Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch's executive director, said that "North Korean women should not have to risk being raped by government officials or workers when they leave their homes to earn money to feed their families". We don't even realise when we are upset, ' she added.

But the testimonies paint a picture of sexual abuse - including rape - that is so widespread that numerous women interviewed did not understand that coercive sex should not be an nearly every-day occurrence, said one investigator who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the work.

They agreed that sexual violence is a serious problem in the North, though the voices and economic power of women have gradually increased in recent years due to their role in burgeoning capitalist-style markets.

One woman, who had been sexually assaulted many times, said officials considered women to be "sex toys".

The report from the global non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch based its data on two years of interviews with more than 50 North Koreans who left the country.

Last July, North Korean officials told a United Nations committee that just nine people in the country were convicted of rape in 2008, seven in 2011 and five in 2015, Human Rights Watch said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's propaganda service has billed the country as a "socialist paradise" free from crime, but Kenneth Roth, the executive director of the Human Rights Watch, said the regime could not ignore the report.

The concept of rape is different in the North, it added, where it is seen as applying only if violence is used. "Every night a prison guard would open the cell". 'So sometimes, out of nowhere, you cry at night and don't know why'.

HRW also references a study conducted by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), a South Korean government think tank, with 1,125 North Koreans who re-settled in South Korea between 2010 and 2014.

The report comes as US -led global diplomacy focuses on North Korean nuclear disarmament.

The study says that abuse is rarely reported because the government does not adequately investigate or prosecute, nor does it do anything to protect survivors, all while claiming that such abuse does not occur at all in North Korea.

After President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, the USA said it would suspend "select" exercises with South Korea, including the large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises over the summer. I stood still quietly, acting like I didn't notice, hoping it wouldn't be me, ' she said.

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