An extensive report released Monday by Human Rights Watch outlined numerous abuses and due process violations in North Korea’s pretrial detention system.
HRW stated that its “report is based on interviews and research conducted by Human Rights Watch staff and a consultant between January 2015 and May 2020.” Among those interviewed were “22 North Koreans detained in detention and interrogation facilities after 2011 (when Kim Jong Un came to power) and eight former North Korean officials who fled the country.” Since North Korea is a “closed” country, information is not widely available. The report states that:
Not much is known about the legal processes in its pretrial detention system, but the experiences of those interviewed and the other evidence detailed below, show that torture, humiliation, coerced confessions, hunger, unhygienic conditions, and the necessity of connections and bribes to avoid the worst treatment appear to be fundamental characteristics.
The report also provides new information on the countries pretrial detention and investigation system by describing:
The criminal investigation process; North Korea’s weak legal and institutional framework; the dependence of law enforcement and the judiciary on the ruling WPK; the apparent presumption of guilt; bribery and corruption; and inhumane conditions and mistreatment of those in detention and interrogation facilities (kuryujang) that often amounts to torture.
It continues by detailing the experiences of former detainees who were subjected to a variety of mistreatments, including being:
Forced to sit still on the floor, kneeling or with their legs crossed, fists or hands on top of their laps, heads down, with their eyesight directed to the floor for 7-8 hours or, in some cases, 13-16 hours a day. If a detainee moves, guards punish the detainee or order collective punishment for all detainees. Abuse, torture, and punishment, including for failing to remain immobilized when ordered, appear to be more acute when interrogators are attempting to obtain confessions. Because detainees are treated as though they are inferior human beings, unworthy of direct eye contact with law enforcement officers, they are referred to by a number instead of their names. Some female detainees reported sexual harassment and assault, including rape.
The report also includes a section of key recommendations to the North Korean government, in which the HRW calls for legal, constitutional, and institutional reform; the establishment of an independent and professional police force; a legal system reform to ensure due process and fair trials; immediate steps to improve the conditions of detention and imprisonment; allow prison and detention center visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN human rights monitors; and to “end endemic torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in detention and prison, including sexual violence, hard labor, being forced to sit immobilized for long periods, and other mistreatment.”