North Korean soldiers are being subjected to verbal abuse and physical beatings from their superiors, as well as systematic torture, a new report states. Those who suffer accidents and abuse due to negligence by the authorities do not receive proper recourse or compensation.
NKDB Chairman Lee Jai Chun presented the report entitled, “Prisoners in military uniform: The real state of human rights in the North Korean military.” A press conference was held at NKDB’s Seoul offices to announce the major findings of the report.
Researcher Kim In Seong, who headed up the report, said, “This report surveyed 70 male defectors with experience in the North Korean military from October 2017 to January 2018. Its findings were compiled from in-depth interviews with the subjects. We published this report in order to more deeply understand the human rights abuses occurring in the North Korean military.”
“Over 1.28 million North Korean soldiers are subjected to physical and verbal abuse. They are mobilized to work on large-scale construction projects, and there are sometimes fatalities during severe training sessions. In reality, the North Korean military is like a massive prison, and the soldiers are like prisoners,” NKDB Chairman Lee Jai Chun said.
North Korean males enter the military from the age of 17 and serve for ten years. They are exposed to extreme conditions during training, beatings, oppressive orders, and cruel punishment.
According to the results of the study, 94.3% of the survey’s 70 respondents suffered verbal abuse, while 82.1% reported suffering such abuse every day. 75.7% of respondents reported being beaten while in the military and 47% reported being sent out to work in the cold, deprived of sleep, and subjected to physical torture.
Over 40% of the respondents witnessed a public execution while fulfilling their military service, while a further 20% were informed of a public execution. Just as the North Korean regime uses public executions to control its civilian population, the military uses executions to control the army.
The in-depth interviews revealed that public executions are regularly carried out by firing squad. There was also testimony about an incident involving an executed corpse being carried into a meeting with soldiers to be shot again in front of them. The testimonies revealed a trend: most executed soldiers came from lower social classes and were young. In many cases, they were simply following the orders of their squad or company commander, when they were accused of illegal behavior and punished.
North Korea’s military is a repressive, hierarchical, and exclusive structure, and one’s fate is often tied to their ability to follow orders.
Many soldiers die after being subjected to reprehensible conditions as laborers on construction sites. Over 40% of the respondents reported seeing someone die while on duty for the military. A further 20% had heard of such an instance.
“In April of 1997, 98 soldiers died in a bridge collapse in North Hwanghae Province, Kumchon County. After the incident, the corpses weren’t even buried properly and the site was covered up in concrete. The incident was relayed to us through testimony. Most of the deaths that occurred during military service were from poor conditions on the work site or strenuous labor on the job,” Kim In-seong said.
“There are some instances of human rights violations against soldiers being reported in the media, but the truth is that we have had trouble understanding the scope of the issue in its entirety. Seizing on the opportunity presented by the publication of this report, NKDB’s Human Rights in the North Korean Military Watch plans to continue to collect qualitative and quantitative data to better understand the systematic human rights violations being committed in the North Korean military. This will provide critical information to South Korea and the international community, and is in the interest of seeking an effective resolution to the abuses,” Kim added.