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South Korean Ministry to Investigate Forced Labor in North Korea

The South Korean government will launch its first investigation into compulsory or forced labor in North Korea, the unification ministry has announced, as part of ongoing efforts to spotlight human rights violations in the country.

The focal point of the inquiry will be changes in forced labor practices since current DPRK leader Kim Jong Un took power in 2011, according to a call for submissions for researchers uploaded to the ministry’s website last Wednesday. 

While the first stage of the research will focus on analyzing North Korean laws and labor regulations, the bulk of the work will consist of “in-depth face-to-face interviews” with defectors, according to the ministry. Media reports have suggested the ministry will use its findings to inform inter-Korean policymaking and will not share its research with the general public.

The North Korean Human Rights Record Center, an organization within the unification ministry, states in  the call for submissions that it will specifically look at forced labor “in detention facilities and schools” during the yearlong project.

South Korea’s Yoon Suk-yeol administration has placed a greater emphasis on DPRK human rights issues since taking office last year. In March, the unification ministry published its first North Korean human rights report since 2016, which was drafted by the  North Korean Human Rights Records Center. 

It’s unclear whether the Seoul inquiry will unveil substantially new data points about human rights violations in the country. The U.N. and civil society have already documented widespread and chronic compulsory and forced labor inside the DPRK. 

For instance, the U.N. special rapporteur on North Korean human rights wrote in her most recent report that women in detention are “required to perform hard labor […] due to daily work quotas that they need to complete in coal mines, factories, farms, machinery, textiles and manufacturing.” 

And just last month, the Global Slavery Index, published by the Australian human rights organization Walk Free, listed North Korea as the country with the highest prevalence of forced labor in the world.

However, recent precedent suggests the unification ministry may not cite such research in the process of assembling its own report.

Earlier this year, the ministry said that it “did not consider” the landmark 2014 U.N. Commission of Inquiry or other reports when crafting an overall assessment of human rights violations in the country. 

“We did not clearly distinguish what is different [from those reports],” a senior ministry official said at a press conference in April.

According to the slavery index, exploitation takes many different forms in the DPRK, such as mandatory participation in exhausting labor campaigns dubbed “battles” that can last up to a hundred days.

North Korea is also known to employ children. Recently, DPRK state media announced the death of a teenager at a construction site, praising the “virgin girl soldier” who died from overwork while fulfilling Kim Jong Un’s orders to carry out rapid construction on a greenhouse last year. 

Another state media report in 2021 claimed that children at two state-run orphanages had “volunteered” to work at coal mines and farms in a show of their loyalty to the Workers’ Party. North Korea often frames forced labor campaigns as calls for volunteers.

Source : NK News