North Korea police 'rape women with impunity' – report

North Korean police and other officials rape and abuse women with near-total impunity, a human rights group reported yesterday.

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed more than 50 escapees from the secretive nuclear-armed state to provide a rare insight into the widespread sexual violence there.

North Korean women caught fleeing to neighbouring China or who are repatriated face punishment including torture, imprisonment and sexual abuse, the report reveals.

“Every night, some woman would be forced to leave with a guard and be raped,” said one victim in her 30s who was held at a border detention centre. “Every night, a guard would open the cell. I stood still quietly, acting like I didn’t notice, hoping it wouldn’t be me.”

Traders who smuggle in goods from China to sell at state-sanctioned private markets are forced to pay “bribes” including sexual favours, the report said.

Managers at state-owned enterprises are involved, along with officials such as “police, prosecutors, soldiers, and railroad inspectors on trains”.

But the concept of rape is different in the North, the report added, where it is seen as applying only if violence is used.

One former textile trader in her 40s recounted being treated like a sex toy “at the mercy of men”.

“It happens so often nobody thinks it is a big deal. We don’t even realise when we are upset,” she added.

“But we are human, and we feel it. So sometimes, out of nowhere, you cry at night and don’t know why.”

Some interviewees talked about rape victims being expelled from university or beaten and abandoned by a husband for bringing shame to the school or their family.

One victim reported that she had been raped by a police officer after being denied food for three days at a border detention centre.

She said: “I thought [at the time] I was offering my body so I could get out of there and go to my kid. I was not even upset. Rather, I even thought I was lucky.”

“Sexual violence in North Korea is an open, unaddressed, and widely tolerated secret,” said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth.

“North Korean women would probably say, ‘Me Too’ if they thought there was any way to obtain justice, but their voices are silenced in Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship.”

North Korea’s leader is the third generation of his family to rule the country, where surveillance is widespread and dissent not tolerated.

With total state control over the media, the global MeToo campaign against abuse of women has entirely passed the country by.

According to data submitted by Pyongyang to an UN panel on gender equality, a total of five people were convicted of rape in the North in 2015.

Pyongyang maintains that it protects and promotes “genuine human rights”.

Mr Kim has sought to soften his international image and has engaged with South Korea, holding three summits with Seoul’s president Moon Jae-in.

But Mr Roth warned human rights were taking a back seat.

Mr Moon – a former human rights lawyer – has stayed silent on the issue as he seeks to reconcile with the North and persuade it to move towards denuclearisation.

“I think President Moon is naive and short-sighted to pretend that human rights can wait,” said Mr Roth.

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