South Korea Makes Rare Public Criticism of North’s Rights Record

(Bloomberg) -- North Korea uses public executions to strike fear into its public and tramples over the freedom of its people, South Korea said in a report on human rights abuses by its neighbor almost certain to draw Pyongyang’s anger.

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The findings were in a report put out Thursday by South Korea’s Unification Ministry, marking the first time Seoul has publicly released its government assessment of North Korea’s human rights record. The move is aimed at putting pressure on Pyongyang as it ratchets up security tensions to levels not seen in years.

“The right to life of North Korean citizens is being greatly threatened by the authorities,” according to report that included interviews with more than 500 North Koreans who defected.

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

Read: North Korean Defectors Are Dying Lonely Deaths in Wealthy South

President Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative who took office about a year ago, has pushed for a tougher line against the neighbor to the north and stepped up joint military exercises with the US. This marks a change from the previous president, Moon Jae-in, a progressive who sought rapprochement with Pyongyang and avoided topics such as human rights abuses that could hurt chances for talks with Kim.

Governments in the US and Europe for years have condemned North Korea for what they see as chronic and systematic human rights abuses. The US State Department’s most recent annual report on human rights said there are credible reports of arbitrary killings, forced disappearances and a network of political prisons engaged in torture in North Korea.

North Korea has bristled at any criticism of its human rights record for decades. Its mission to the United Nations this month blasted the US and “its followers” for what it called fabrications hatched in a pressure campaign that is “a serious challenge to the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK,” referring to the country by its formal name.

Read: Kim’s Rare Display of Nuclear Warheads Sends Chilling Message

South Korea enacted its North Korean Human Rights Act in 2016, mandating the unification minister to submit an annual report on North Korea’s human rights situation to the National Assembly. The reports were kept confidential under the Moon government, likely to prevent provoking Pyongyang.

Lawmakers in Moon’s ruling party have also stepped up the condemnation of North Korea for spending heavily on its nuclear arms programs instead of addressing a chronic food shortage. The United Nations World Food Programme says about 40% of North Korea’s population is undernourished.

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