US criticizes N. Korea's forced labor
By Kim Young-jin
The United States ranked North Korea among the world’s worst human trafficking countries, Wednesday, highlighting its practice of forced labor among other abuses.
In its annual Trafficking in Persons report, the State Department again designated the North as a “Tier 3” state along with 16 others with the poorest record of combating trafficking.
The North “is a source country for men, women and children who are subjected to forced labor, forced marriage and sex trafficking…(and) made no discernible law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons during the reporting period,” it said.
In addition to reiterating concerns of trafficking of North Korean women across the Chinese border, this year’s report emphasized Pyongyang’s practice of forced labor both in an out of the country.
The North sends workers abroad to Russia, Africa, Southeast Asia and elsewhere under bilateral contracts in what analysts say is a bid to earn hard currency for the regime. The laborers are said to have severely restricted movement and be under constant surveillance.
There were “credible reports that these workers faced threats of government reprisals against them or their relatives in North Korea if they attempted to escape or complain to outside parties,” it said.
“Workers’ salaries are deposited into accounts controlled by the North Korean government, which keeps most of the money, claiming fees for various ‘voluntary’ contributions to government endeavors.”
The report said Pyongyang worked harder to place North Korean workers in Russia especially in the Far East, where it estimated there were between 10,000 and 15,000 North Korean workers employed in logging camps. Such workers reportedly have only two days of rest per year, it said.
Within it borders, the North is known to use forced labor as part of a system of repression that maintains power for its ruling Kim dynasty, now led by young leader Kim Jong-un. Pyongyang is said to hold up to 200,000 political prisoners in a sprawling gulag system.
It pointed out that some North Korean women who escape to China “are lured, drugged, or kidnapped by traffickers upon arrival” and compelled into forced marriages with Chinese men. They are also often forced into prostitution or jobs as hostesses in nightclubs and karaoke bars.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently called on Kim to improve the country’s human rights situation, calling on the “young man” thought to be 29 to be a transformative figure. This week Pyongyang shot back, referring to Clinton as “Hillary” in state media and slamming her "reckless" assessment of the situation.
Meanwhile, Seoul ranked as a Tier 1 country in line with international prevention norms. But it called on the South to implement clear laws prohibiting all forms of trafficking.