The Human Rights Watch on Thursday said women in North Korea were regular targets of sexual assault and beatings in their homes as well as in public.
The report’s findings are based on interviews that the organisation conducted with more than 100 North Koreans who have fled their country. Fifty seven of them left the country after 2011, when Kim Jong-un assumed power.
The North Korean delegation to the United Nations in Geneva told Reuters that the report’s allegations were “trite and fictitious” and “strongly rejected” its findings.
The organisation admitted that the sample size of the study was limited but claimed its findings corroborate the results of other investigations into the human rights situation in North Korea. In 2014, a United Nations report alleged that the North Korean government had perpetrated “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations”.
Human Rights Watch investigators said their interviewees had claimed that such incidents had become “so common that it has come to be accepted as part of ordinary life”. The interviewees alleged that government officials, prison guards, interrogators, police, prosecutors, and soldiers sexually assault women, including political prisoners and black market traders.
The report quotes one of the interviewees as saying that women are treated like sex toys. “We are at the mercy of men,” Oh Jung-hee, a former trader, was quoted as saying. “Sometimes, out of nowhere, you cry at night and do not know why.”
The rights organisation called on Pyongyang to promptly investigate these alleged cases and prosecute the accused. It recommended North Korea to acknowledge the “pervasive problem of violence against women and girls in North Korea”, set up health and social services for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and gather and share credible data on sexual crime cases.