North Koreans have to pay bribes to survive: UN report
GENEVA: North Koreans are forced to pay bribes to officials to survive in their isolated country, where corruption is "endemic" and repression rife, the United Nations human rights office said yesterday.
Officials across North Korea extort money from a population struggling to make ends meet, threatening them with detention and prosecution - particularly those working in the informal economy, it said in a report.
North Korea blames the dire humanitarian situation on UN sanctions imposed for its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since 2006.
But the report said the military receives priority funding amid "economic mismanagement".
"I am concerned that the constant focus on the nuclear issue continues to divert attention from the terrible state of human rights for many millions of North Koreans," Ms Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.
"The rights to food, health, shelter, work, freedom of movement and liberty are universal and inalienable, but in North Korea they depend primarily on the ability of individuals to bribe State officials," she said.
Four in 10 North Koreans, or 10.1 million people, are chronically short of food and further cuts to already minimal rations are expected after the worst harvest in a decade, a UN assessment said earlier this month.
"The threat of arrest, detention and prosecution provide State officials with a powerful means of extorting money from a population struggling to survive," the UN rights office report said.
Bribery is "an everyday feature of people's struggle to make ends meet", said the report.
It denounced what it called a "vicious cycle of deprivation, corruption and repression".
"If you have money you can get away with anything, including murder," an unnamed North Korean defector testified.
Many North Koreans pay bribes of cash or cigarettes not to have to report to state-assigned jobs where they receive no salary, thus allowing them to earn an income in rudimentary markets, the report said.
Others bribe border guards to cross into China, where women are vulnerable to trafficking into forced marriages or the sex trade, it added. - REUTERS
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