North Korea becoming more repressive amid reports of starvation

The human rights chief for the United Nations said North Korea is increasing its repression of human rights, with people starving in portions of the country as it faces a worsening economic situation Thursday.

“According to our information, people are becoming increasingly desperate as informal markets and other coping mechanisms are dismantled, while their fear of state surveillance, arrest, interrogation and detention has increased,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said, according to The Associated Press.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic waning, the country’s restrictions have increased broadly. Guards are authorized to shoot any unauthorized person approaching the border and almost all foreigners, including U.N. staff, are still barred from the country, according to Türk.

He also said those in North Korea who are caught looking at “reactionary ideology and culture,” or information from abroad, especially from South Korea, have a possibility of now facing five to 15 years in prison. People who distribute that information risk life in prison or a death sentence. 

Türk said the government has mostly shut down markets and other private ways of making money, ramping up the criminalization of doing so. 

“This sharply constrains people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families,” he said. “Given the limits of state-run economic institutions, many people appear to be facing extreme hunger as well as acute shortages of medication.”

The Associated Press contributed.

Tags COVID-19 pandemic human rights North Korea South Korea United Nations Volker Türk