South Korea rarely voices public criticism of the North’s human rights record

(Bloomberg) – North Korea is using public executions to instill fear in its public and trampling on its people’s freedom, South Korea said in a report on human rights abuses by its neighbor that will almost certainly anger Pyongyang.

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The findings came in a report released Thursday by South Korea’s unification ministry, marking the first time Seoul has publicly released its state assessment of North Korea’s human rights record. The move aims to put pressure on Pyongyang as it raises security tensions to levels not seen in years.

“North Korean citizens’ right to life is being severely threatened by the authorities,” said the report, which included interviews with more than 500 North Korean defectors.

Public executions are being carried out in large numbers by Kim Jong Un’s regime to punish people for crimes such as drug-related offenses, distributing South Korean videos and engaging in religious movements, the report said. North Korean citizens face restrictions on freedom of expression and discrimination based on social status, she added.

Read: North Korean defectors die lonely deaths in affluent south

President Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative who took office about a year ago, has urged a harder line on the northern neighbor and stepped up joint military exercises with the US. This marks a change from previous President Moon Jae-in, a progressive who sought rapprochement with Pyongyang and avoided issues such as human rights abuses that could hamper chances of talks with Kim.

Governments in the US and Europe have condemned North Korea for what they see as chronic and systematic human rights abuses for years. The US State Department’s latest annual report on human rights says there are credible reports of arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances and a network of political prisons being used in North Korea.

North Korea has for decades resisted criticism of its human rights record. Her mission to the United Nations this month blasted the US and “her supporters” for what they described as inventions hatched in a pressure campaign that “poses a serious challenge to the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK.” ‘ and refers to the country by its official name.

Read: Kim’s rare display of nuclear warheads sends a chilling message

South Korea enacted its North Korean Human Rights Law in 2016, mandating the Unification Minister to submit an annual report on the human rights situation in North Korea to the National Assembly. The reports were kept confidential under the Moon government to prevent provocation by Pyongyang.

Lawmakers in Moon’s ruling party have also stepped up condemnation of North Korea for spending heavily on its nuclear weapons programs rather than addressing chronic food shortages. The United Nations World Food Program says about 40% of North Korea’s population is malnourished.

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