DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA*
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is a dictatorship under the absolute rule of Kim Jong Il, General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party (KWP) since October 1997. In 1998, the Supreme People's Assembly reconfirmed Kim Jong Il as Chairman of the National Defense Commission and declared that position the "highest office of state." The presidency was abolished, leaving Kim Jong Il's father, the late Kim Il Sung, as the DPRK's "eternal president." During the year, the Korean People's Army (KPA) continued to displace the KWP as Kim Jong Il's chief instrument for making and implementing policy. The titular head of state is Kim Yong Nam, the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly. Elections for the 687-member Assembly were held in August. Only the KWP and two small satellite parties participated. The elections were not free. Kim Jong Il and his father were the objects of an intense personality cult and the regime continued to cling to "juche," a national ideology of self-reliance, even though the population was dependent on international aid for its survival. The judiciary is not independent.
The DPRK is one of the world's most militarized states. The KPA is the primary organization responsible for external security. A large military reserve force and several quasi-military organizations, including the Worker-Peasant Red Guards and the People's Security Force, assist it. These organizations also assisted the large internal security apparatus, which includes the Ministry of Public Security [MPS], the State Security Department, the National Security Agency, the National Security Police, and the KWP. Members of the security forces have committed serious human rights abuses.
North Korea has had one of the most centralized and tightly controlled economies in the world; however, citizens increasingly have tried to work in the informal economy, in recent years, to cope with shortages of food and other necessities. Only government-controlled labor unions are permitted in this country of 22 million persons. Industry continued to operate at very low capacity, reflecting antiquated plant and equipment and severe shortages of inputs. Heavy military spending, which is estimated at more than one quarter of gross domestic product (GDP), hampered economic development. The economy also was hampered by a lack of access to commercial lending stemming from the country's default on its foreign debt and its inability to obtain loans from international financial institutions. Rarely self?sufficient in food supplies, the country relied on international aid and trade to supplement domestic production. Economic and political conditions have caused at least tens of thousands of persons to flee their homes since the mid-1990s. To relieve food shortages, the Government permitted an increase in the number of private vendors to compensate for the contraction of food supplied through the public distribution system. Food, clothing, and energy provided by the Government were rationed throughout the country. To encourage economic development, in 2002 the Government raised wages and prices drastically, sharply devalued its currency, and announced that it would grant managers more responsibility. These changes sparked a dramatic rise in inflation, but failed to re-energize industrial growth. The regime remained committed to the notion of establishing special economic zones as "capitalist" enclaves to attract foreign direct investment, but no significant progress was recorded during the year.
The Government's human rights record remained extremely poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Citizens do not have the right to change their government, and the leadership views most international human rights norms, particularly individual rights, as illegitimate, alien, and subversive to the goals of the State and Party. There continued to be reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arbitrary detention including many who were held as political prisoners. Prison conditions were harsh, and torture reportedly was common. Credible eyewitness reports note that pregnant female prisoners underwent forced abortions, and in other cases babies reportedly were killed upon birth in prisons. The constitutional provisions for an independent judiciary and fair trials were not implemented in practice. The regime subjected its citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives. The Penal Code is Draconian, stipulating capital punishment and confiscation of assets for a wide variety of "crimes against the revolution," including defection, attempted defection, slander of the policies of the Party or State, listening to foreign broadcasts, writing "reactionary" letters, and possessing reactionary printed matter. Citizens are denied freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; all forms of cultural and media activities are under the tight control of the KWP. Little outside information reaches the public except that which is approved and disseminated by the Government. The Government restricted freedom of religion, citizens' movement, and worker rights. There were reports of trafficking in women and young girls among refugees and workers crossing the border into China. In April, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights for the first time adopted a resolution on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, which, among other things, "expresses its deep concern about reports of systemic, widespread and grave violations of human rights…."