Home > HRNK Announcements
HRNK Announcements
PRESS RELEASE: Marked for Life: Songbun, North Korea's Social Classification System
June 06, 2012


 

Report Embargoed until 12:01 am EDT, Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Committee for Human Rights in North Korea Releases First Comprehensive Study of North Korea’s Discriminatory Social Classification System: “Songbun.”

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a Washington D.C.-based non-governmental organization which researches and reports on North Korean human rights, will launch the publication Marked For Life: Songbun—North Korea’s Social Classification System on June 6, 2012 at the American Enterprise Institute. 

The report was authored by Robert Collins, a 37-year veteran of the Department of Defense and an expert on North Korea and Northeast Asian security issues. Collins argues that it is essential to shed light on the songbun system because it is “the basic concept underlying all of North Korea’s human rights violations” and permeates every aspect of North Korean society. He dedicated the report to the 75 North Korean defectors he interviewed to produce it.

At birth, each North Korean is assigned a songbun status by the government based on the perceived political loyalty of one’s family to the regime. Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” all North Koreans are classified as “loyal,” “wavering, or “hostile” and face discrimination on the basis of this classification in food distribution, housing, residential location, employment, education, and all aspects of a person’s life. The wavering and hostile classes are estimated to total 72% of the population, or more than 16 million North Koreans. Only the small politically loyal class is entitled to live in Pyongyang and benefit from extensive privileges, 

North Korea’s political prison camps or “gulags,” in which an estimated 150,000 to 200, 000 are incarcerated, were originally designed to root out “counter-revolutionaries” from society, expel them from Pyongyang, and isolate them and their families in remote, inhospitable areas in the mountains. 

“The North Korean government has the notable distinction of being one of the most brutal, repressive, and controlled political systems of the past century,” says Andrew Natsios, former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Co-Chair of the Committee. The songbun system leads to a society that is highly stratified as a means of social control, where every North Korean is truly “marked for life” from birth. 

“Although money, bribery and corruption have recently begun to erode the songbun system,” observes Roberta Cohen, Co-Chair of the Committee, “the main elements of this pernicious political segregation remain in place, guaranteed by a complete absence of political freedom.”

“Throughout its 64 year existence, the Kim regime has claimed that North Korea is an egalitarian workers’ paradise. Yet, inequality is assigned at birth, perpetuated throughout a person’s lifetime and cruelly enforced by those in power to benefit themselves and their supporters,” says Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the Committee.

As a starting point, this report recommends that North Korea allow the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea full, free, and unimpeded access, so that they can study the impact of the songbun system on the human rights of North Koreans. Governments, NGOs and international organizations are urged to call attention to this deliberate state policy of discrimination and work to eliminate this practice that so flagrantly violates basic principles of human rights.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, established in 2001 by a distinguished group of foreign policy and human rights specialists, seeks to draw attention to human rights conditions in North Korea by publishing well-documented reports and papers, convening conferences, testifying at national and international fora, and seeking creative ways to end the isolation of the North Korean people. Most recently, the Committee launched its Hidden Gulag publication on North Korean political prison camps at an April 2012 conference in Washington DC. 

For inquiries regarding the songbun report, please contact Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (executive.director@hrnk.org, 202-499-7973).

THE REPORT IS EMBARGOED UNTIL 12:01 A.M. EST WEDNESDAY DEC. 19, 2018. Denied from the Start: Human Rights at the Local Level in North Korea is a comprehensive study of how North Korea’s Kim regime denies human rights for each and every citizen of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). In doing so, this report examines human rights denial policies and practices. Local institutions are responsible for this denial at the schools, housing units, workplaces, and beyon

In this submission, HRNK focuses its attention on the DPRK’s—  1. System of political imprisonment, wherein a multitude of human rights violations are evidenced, including enforced disappearance, amounting to crimes against humanity.  2. Restrictions on freedom of movement, affecting women in particular, as evidenced in sexual violence, human trafficking, and arbitrary detention.  3. Policy of social and political discrimination, known as “so

From Cradle to Grave: The Path of North Korean Innocents
Robert Collins and Amanda Mortwedt Oh
Nov 13, 2017

This paper draws on existing research and Robert Collins’ previous work to explain the ideological basis and institutional structure of the Kim regime’s rule of terror, with an emphasis on the political prison camps. It is intended to provide a brief overview of how North Korea’s party-state controls every individual’s life from the cradle to the grave through relentless indoctrination, surveillance, and punishment. Specifically, it seeks to answer the following questions: What so

The Parallel Gulag: North Korea's
David Hawk with Amanda Mortwedt Oh
Oct 26, 2017

In this book, David Hawk provides never-before-seen imagery of labor re-education camps, both suspected and confirmed. He reveals a parallel network of prisons controlled by the DPRK’s Ministry of People’s Security (An-jeon-bu). These revelations suggest the imposition of degrees of suffering even more pervasive than the UN COI described in 2014. Although these labor camps might be described as “ordinary prisons”, there is nothing “ordinary” in the treatment of those i

North Korea Camp No. 25 Update 2
Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Andy Dinville, and Mike Eley
Nov 29, 2016

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 9.0px Helvetica; color: #3f5864} span.s1 {font: 5.0px Helvetica} As part of a joint undertaking with HRNK to use satellite imagery to shed light on human suffering in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, more commonly known as North Korea), AllSource Analysis has been monitoring activity at political prison facilities throughout North Korea. This report details activity observed during the past

North Korea: Flooding at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri
Greg Scarlatoiu and Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.
Sep 16, 2016

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-governmental organization based in Washington, DC and AllSource Analysis, a leading global provider of high-resolution earth imagery solutions, have conducted a satellite imagery-based rapid assessment of flood damage at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri in Hamgyo╠ćng-bukto, North Korea. Thousands of political prisoners are held in this re-education prison labor camp together with common offenders.