[Press Release][Press Release] Introducing Prisoners in Military Uniform

4 Apr 2022
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“Prisoners in Military Uniform”

NKDB Releases Updated English Report on

Human Rights in the North Korean Military

  • “Prisoners in Military Uniform: Human Rights in the North Korean Military” details the array of human rights violations that those within the North Korean military experience
  • Following its original Korean publication in 2018, the English edition includes new research conducted in early 2022
  • Updates include changes to human rights conditions in the North Korean military since the rise of Kim Jong Un, including exploitation of labor, beatings, and internal surveillance of soldiers’ lives

On Tuesday, March 29th, 2022, The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) held their Monthly Briefing and Discussion on North Korean Human Rights, where they shared the release of their newest English-language publication, Prisoners in Military Uniform: Human Rights in the North Korean Military. This publication has been translated from the original Korean report released in 2018, in addition to a new chapter based on research conducted in early 2022.

An Often-forgotten Group of Human Rights Victims

The North Korean military is often viewed only as a perpetrator of North Korean human rights violations, usually associated with missile tests and military parades. Prisoners in Military Uniform aims to shed new light on the human rights violations that these soldiers are exposed to as they complete their mandatory military service in North Korea.

The original report from 2018 is based on in-depth interviews with 70 North Korean escapees who describe the human rights conditions they experienced, witnessed, and heard about as members of the North Korean military. Many of these respondents served under the rule of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, leaving a relative gap in information regarding military service under the current regime of Kim Jong Un. New research carried out in early 2022 explored the changes, both positive and negative, that have taken place within the military over nearly 10 years of the Kim Jong Un Regime. NKDB conducted this research through interviews with an additional 10 North Korean escapees to ascertain these changes.

Respondents revealed that perceptions around military service in North Korea have declined under Kim Jong Un. While the military once vastly improved one’s chances of being admitted to the Party, an oversaturation of Party members has led to a decrease in admission, removing incentives for those wishing to enlist in the military. Societal expectations have similarly declined, with many citizens regarding those who do go to the military as smart. Rampant bribery has also made it easier for soldiers to discharge early or overcome bad family background in order to enlist.

Interviews with respondents revealed a variety of crimes not limited to beatings and verbal abuse, but torture that includes exposure to extreme temperatures and sexual assault. Information providers revealed that conditions for soldiers within the military are only marginally better than in regular North Korean society, and are often put in dangerous situations when it comes to military training or mobilizations for work outside the military due to inefficient or non-existent safety equipment.

Perhaps most seriously, crimes committed by soldiers against North Korean civilians at the behest of their superiors continue to occur, despite orders from the regime to curb such crimes. The hierarchical nature of the North Korean military results in lower-level soldiers being held to account for their crimes, despite receiving orders to commit such crimes from their superiors.

Information providers from the original investigation revealed that surveillance within the military is a serious issue. New research conducted by NKDB confirmed that this surveillance has continued, and even been strengthened under the Kim Jong Un regime. Information providers revealed that restrictions on leaving the military installation to which they are assigned have been strengthened under Kim Jong Un, with soldiers unable to leave the installation except under specific circumstances, due to a rise in desertion from the military.

Making Recommendations for Improvement

New research conducted by NKDB culminates in recommendations for how the North Korean military can address the array of human rights issues that soldiers face during their military service period. Many of the issues that the military faces are systematic, and require proper implementation in order to effect change within the military.

Among recommendations in the final chapter, addressing the abuse of power by military officers would improve soldiers’ lives in a variety of ways. However, this issue is not one that can be addressed through policy alone, but through proper implementation crackdown to ensure the eradication of abuse of power.

Both the original investigation and the new research conducted by NKDB revealed a stark lack of awareness of human rights, or a lack of recognition of certain acts as human rights violations, but rather as normal activity. One respondent said that efforts should be made to properly inform those within the North Korean military of the term “human rights”, and through this, soldiers can recognize the abuses that they have been subject to themselves, and perhaps inflict on others.

Prisoners in Military Uniform is available for download at no charge from the NKDB website, and physical copies of the publication are available for purchase by contacting NKDB at nkdb.org@hotmail.com.