Interviews with North Korean refugees and ex-officials reveal widespread sexual abuse and total impunity. Despite the horrendous scale of abuse against women, just five people were convicted of rape in 2015.
North Korean officials in positions of power regularly sexually abuse women without any repercussions, Human Rights Watch found in a report released Thursday.
Sexual violence against women is so widespread in the country that it "has come to be accepted as part of ordinary life," the New York-based HRW reports.
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"Sexual violence in North Korea is an open, unaddressed and widely tolerated secret," said Human Rights Watch's executive director, Kenneth Roth. "North Korean women would probably say 'me, too' if they thought there was any way to obtain justice, but their voices are silenced in Kim Jong Un's dictatorship."
The report, You Cry at Night but Don't Know Why is based on interviews with 54 North Korean refugees and eight former North Korean officials.
High-ranking party members, prison guards, police, market officials, prosecutors and soldiers commit rape and other abuses against women with total impunity, according to HRW.
Fearful of retaliation or social stigma, and with few means to report sexual violence, North Korean women rarely report abuse. Reporting sexual violence may even lead to greater punishment, including beatings, detention and forced labor.
Corruption and unchecked abuse of power by men is exacerbated by hierarchical and patriarchal traditions in North Korean society, the report said.
Much of the sexual abuse was committed by police or security agents while women were in detention.
Women working in the burgeoning private markets also fall prey to market inspectors and other officials.
"On the days they felt like it, market guards or police officials could ask me to follow them to an empty room outside the market, or some other place they'd pick," said one former market trader. "They consider us [sex] toys. We [women] are at the mercy of men."
North Korea doesn't recognize abuse against women as a problem. Data submitted by the regime to a UN panel on gender equality showed only five rape convictions in the whole country in 2015.
The release of the report comes as South Korea and the United States are diplomatically engaged with North Korea to denuclearize. With the focus on hard security issues, North Korea's abysmal human rights record has fallen by the wayside.
cw/bw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)