HomeOppression and Human RightsHRW: North Korea's Internal Terror Got Worse with Covid Isolation

HRW: North Korea’s Internal Terror Got Worse with Covid Isolation

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In the shadow of global interconnectivity, North Korea stands as an enigmatic fortress, its borders more impenetrable than ever in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. The leadership of Kim Jong Un has steered the country into an era of heightened isolation, employing measures that are as extreme as they are isolating. The Human Rights Watch report, “A Sense of Terror Stronger than a Bullet: The Closing of North Korea 2018–2023,” unveils the harrowing consequences of these actions, painting a vivid picture of a society under siege from within.

At the onset of the pandemic, North Korea was among the first nations to completely seal its borders. The government’s expansion of fences, establishment of new guard posts, and a chilling “shoot on sight” order for any unauthorized individuals near the border have fortified the country’s isolation. This rigid enforcement of border security, combined with stringent trade restrictions, effectively disconnected North Korea from the global community, stopping not just the movement of people but also halting commercial trade and blocking the flow of humanitarian aid.

Under Kim Jong Un’s rule, the fabric of North Korean society has been woven with fear and repression. The government’s reliance on arbitrary detention, torture, and executions—often without a semblance of a fair trial—has instilled a profound sense of obedience in its citizens. The UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK has categorized these practices as crimes against humanity, highlighting “systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations” that include forced labor, imprisonment, and the suppression of freedoms.

The measures introduced to combat the pandemic have added layers to the country’s isolation. Severe restrictions on movement, trade, and access to information, purportedly aimed at controlling Covid-19, have tightened the government’s grip over the population. The crackdown on informal trade and corruption has severed a critical survival lifeline for many North Koreans. This clampdown has significantly impacted the population’s access to food, medicine, and essential goods, deepening the humanitarian crisis.

The repercussions of the government’s policies have been particularly devastating for North Korea’s most vulnerable populations. The restrictions have disproportionately affected women, who often are the primary earners in their families, relying on market activities for livelihood. “The renewed restrictions on economic activities have disproportionately affected married women, who are often the main earners in North Korean families,” the report states, underscoring the profound impact on families’ ability to secure food and necessities.

Food insecurity has spiraled as a result of these draconian measures, with the population’s access to essential goods severely curtailed. Informal trade routes, previously a vital source of food and goods, have been choked off, leading to a dire situation where “Some are starving,” as highlighted in the report. The government’s actions have not only exacerbated the suffering but have also served to reinforce its control, isolating the population further from the outside world and from each other.

The Human Rights Watch report sheds light on the severe consequences of North Korea’s self-imposed isolation, emphasizing the regime’s use of fear and control as tools of governance. The stark reality described by those affected by these policies reveals the lengths to which the North Korean government will go to maintain its hold on power. As the international community continues to face its own challenges, the plight of the North Korean people serves as a sobering reminder of the human cost of isolation and absolute power.

https://www.hrw.org/report/2024/03/07/a-sense-of-terror/stronger-than-a-bullet-the-closing-of-north-korea-2018%E2%80%932023

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