Especially since the release of the report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (UNCOI) in February 2014, Kim Jong-un’s regime has come under increased scrutiny by the international community for its human rights abuses.
The UNCOI’s basic findings identify a systematic deliberate denial of human rights throughout North Korean society through practices that are draconian in nature and brutal in execution.
The Kim Jong-un regime stands as the bastion of the most centralized political system in the world. North Korea’s capital city of Pyongyang is the power center of that regime. Every resource that contributes to power, advantage or a better quality of life is centered in or managed from Pyongyang. Most importantly, the individuals who enable the Kim Family Regime to maintain political control are predominantly located in Pyongyang, with supporting elements in the provinces.
The Korean Workers’ Party, the ruling party of North Korea, and all agencies of the government, security agencies and military are headquartered in the capital city. It is where the institutions involved in the suppression of human rights maintain their centers of administration, policy and decision-making. It is where the regime’s practice of “human rights denial” is formulated, and it is where political evaluations of key regime officials are conducted with focus on those officials leading and implementing the policies that support human rights denial. Because Pyongyang provides privilege and resources to those that serve the regime’s interests, North Koreans strive to live there. In doing so, they comply with the implementation of human rights denial in their personal performance and political participation.
Often referred to as the Pyongyang Republic, North Korea’s capital encompasses the nexus of ideology, centralization of power, resource prioritization and politically oriented privilege that enables the Pyongyang Republic to deny every North Korean every conceivable human right. Each of the regime’s three Supreme Leaders — Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un — contributed to the creation of the Pyongyang Republic through ideological and physical construction supported by highly effective regime internal security, an effort that begins with the sociopolitical classification of every North Korean. This classification system has been used to control the right to live in Pyongyang. Those allowed to reside in North Korea’s capital city are thus forced to implement the ideological values of the regime and contribute to the regime’s political consolidation process and its hereditary succession system.
The ideological foundation for maintaining the supremacy of the Supreme Leader (Suryong) is the doctrine of Suryong-juui, or Supreme Leader-ism. The Suryong is responsible for the alignment of the political, social, economic and cultural sectors of North Korea to advance the socialist revolution. The Suryong leads the dictatorship of the proletariat and is the mind that brings the party together. An individual’s rights must not interfere with the Suryong’s guidance and directives because the Suryong is always correct in his wisdom, directions and decisions. The Supreme Leader’s guidance to all North Korean institutional cadres, regardless of agency, compels North Korean leaders at all levels to ensure all individual rights are subordinated to the Supreme Leader’s directives and preferences.
Privilege is the tool the Supreme Leader employs to ensure loyalty is complete. Deeply impacting both professional life and lifestyle, privilege is bestowed on North Koreans as reward for those who serve the Kim Family Regime. This relationship creates a direct link between privilege, direct service to the conceptual precepts of the Pyongyang Republic and human rights denial.
As a result of these policies, the disparities between Pyongyang and the provinces are evidenced by the quality of life between the two populations. Those that live in Pyongyang receive the best and most food, health care, housing, education and professional opportunity. Those that live in the provinces overwhelmingly do not. The role of the provinces is to provide manpower and resources without receiving the benefit of local economic development in return.
• Robert M. Collins is a senior adviser to the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and author of “Pyongyang Republic: North Korea’s Capital of Human Rights Denial” (HRNK, 2016) and “Marked for Life: Songbun, North Korea’s Social Classification System” (HRNK, 2012). Mr. Collins worked for the U.S. Department of the Army for almost four decades, finishing his career as chief of strategy, ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command, in Seoul.
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