North Korea has topped the Global Slavery Index (GSI) in 2018, with a reported 1 in 10 citizens subjected to slavery by the state. Compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, this index aims to address slavery in both developed and third world countries.
In 2016, they estimated that 45.8 million worldwide were in forms of slavery. It is also speculated that women and young girls make up around 70% of those enslaved. The report also details that slavery can start from when people are merely school students. Some of this slavery has been described as ‘light agricultural duties’- whilst others being ‘hard labour.’ Other reports include food being withheld as punishment.
This report is no surprise to numerous NGOs and advocates, with North Korea’s human rights abuses being well documented. These accusations date back decades, and include allegations of sexual slavery, concentration camps and capital punishment. Talks between U.S President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un regarding the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula did not touch on the human rights abuses that go on in that state.
Notable defector Jang Jin Sung, in an article with NBC News, claims that it’s impossible to separate the human rights atrocities from the political and international relations of that state. He argues that the regime tries to avoid ‘challenge’ on a domestic level. North Korea’s nuclear weapons are an imposing threat to South Korea and Japan, as well as the United States. This means that confrontation could easily lead to deadly warfare.
North Korea’s human rights abuses have been compared to Nazi Germany by key United Nations personnel such as Michael Kirby. Other commentators have provided speculation that a potential World War may brew. While others claim that North Korea is at peace given it has participated in recent talks.
However, saying that North Korea is currently experiencing ‘peace’ rings false. There is nothing peaceful about a government that subjects its citizens to brutal measures and propaganda. It’s tempting for the international community to wish for an end to the tensions between North Korea and the West.
However, the international community must not dismiss the Global Slavery Index and numerous defectors from North Korea providing firsthand knowledge into hardships faced by many. Any decision affecting North Korea must have the people’s wellbeing in mind. After all, the ‘ordinary people’ described by defector Lee Hyeon-Seo deserve the same human rights as anyone else.
The relationship between human rights and global peace such that you can’t have one without the other. This is frequently forgotten by many in the international community who prefer to shift the focus on denuclearization. Absence of warfare is not necessarily peace, and that is something many people must remember.
This spotlight has been on North Korea and to highlight the urgent need to recognize ongoing human rights abuses. We in the international community must hold the government of North Korea accountable for human rights abuses.