Women defectors returned to North Korea face abuse: UN

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korean women face widespread sexual violations by state security and police officials if they are forcibly returned after a failed attempt to flee, the United Nations (UN) rights body said yesterday.

Pyongyang imposes tight restrictions on freedom of movement for its citizens and those caught for illegal border crossing are subject to detention and prosecution. But before the North locked down its borders to try to prevent a coronavirus outbreak, many travelled back and forth across the porous 1,400 kilometre border with China to engage in trade or to relocate.

The vast majority of border-crossers are female as women have more freedom of movement than men, who are all allocated state jobs in a traditionally patriarchal society.

The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner interviewed more than 100 North Korean escapees who said they suffered sexual violence including rape, forced nudity and abortion after fleeing, being caught and subsequently being repatriated.

Back in the North, ministry of state security officials often carried out “invasive searches” at detention centres, said Daniel Collinge, the primary author of the report.

“They were subjected to body searches which required them to strip naked and then to squat and jump repeatedly to check for hidden items in their body cavities,” Collinge told reporters in Seoul.

The women’s rights to sexual reproduction were also violated, he added, with forced abortions rampant at detention centres.