N. Korean women face rampant sexual abuse by officials: Rights group, Latest World News - The New Paper

N. Korean women face rampant sexual abuse by officials: Rights group

This article is more than 12 months old

UN report says North Korean officials prey on women with near-total impunity

SEOUL North Korean police and other officials prey on women with near-total impunity, a rights group said yesterday, in a rare report on sex abuse in the isolated nation.

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) drew on interviews with more than 50 North Korean escapees to chronicle gruesome details of rape and other abuses perpetrated by security officers such as border guards, but also civilian officials.

The nuclear-armed North, which is accused of widespread rights abuses by the United Nations and other critics, is a deeply hierarchical and patriarchal society where traditional values of deference to authority still hold sway.

But the vast majority of both defectors and market traders in the North are female. Many women have more freedom of movement than men as they are not assigned a state job from which their absence will be noticed.

North Korean women caught fleeing the country to China or who are repatriated from its neighbour face severe punishment including torture, imprisonment and sexual abuse, the report said.

"Every night, some woman would be forced to leave with a guard and be raped," said one abuse victim in her 30s who was once held at a border detention centre.

"Every night, a prison guard would open the cell. I stood still quietly, acting like I didn't notice, hoping it wouldn't be me," she added.

Traders who smuggle goods across the border with China to sell at state-sanctioned private markets are forced to pay "bribes" including sexual favours, the report said.

Perpetrators include managers at state-owned enterprises and gatekeeper officials at the markets and on roads and checkpoints, such as "police, prosecutors, soldiers, and railroad inspectors on trains", it said.

But the concept of rape is different in the North, it added, where it is seen as applying only if violence is used.

One anonymous former textile trader in her 40s recounted being treated like a sex toy "at the mercy of men".

"On the days they felt like it, market guards or police officials could ask me to follow them to an empty room outside the market" where they forced sexual encounters, she said.

"It happens so often nobody thinks it is a big deal," she added.

"But we are human and we feel it," she said. "So sometimes, out of nowhere, you cry at night and don't know why."

Some interviewees talked about rape victims in the North being expelled from university or beaten and abandoned by a husband for bringing shame to the school or their family.

"Sexual violence in North Korea is an open, unaddressed, and widely tolerated secret," said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth.

"North Korean women would probably say 'MeToo' if they thought there was any way to obtain justice, but their voices are silenced in Kim Jong Un's dictatorship," he added.- AFP