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Historical Introduction

April 25, 2007. A missile unit of Korean Peoples Army marching in a parade to celebrate its 75th anniversary at the Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang. AFP via Korean Central News Agency

Korea, a site of ancient civilization and early states, spent most of its history under sovereign monarchies before being conquered and annexed by Japan after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. After Japan surrendered in the Second World War, Korea was split between American and Soviet forces and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea formed in Soviet-controlled North in 1948 remains among the most reclusive, repressive and militarized regimes. Counting on Soviet and Chinese support, totalitarian North Korea attacked the South in June 1950 in attempt to unify the country by force. A major international conflict followed and more than 2 million died before a truce was signed in 1953. Agrarian reform, launched in late 1940s, gained momentum after the war and paved way for collectivization, one-party dictatorship and Stalinist-style repressions and purges. The number of executions is unknown, but the ideology provisions of North Korea's penal code, witness accounts and initial statistics indicate that about 90 000 may have been killed during the 1958-1960 campaign of terror. During 1948-1987, about 1,6-2 million Koreans perished in government-sanctioned repressions. About 100 000 were killed during purges and at least 400 000, but probably more than 1,5 million died in prison camps.

Prisons and camps are just part of a larger repressive network that includes transit jails for dissidents, correctional labour centres, labour camps and deportation zones where as many as 150 000-200 000 people are still being kept in concentration-camp conditions. In those facilities, mortality rate is estimated at 100 per day or 36 500 a year. The UN indicated in 1997 that during a 1990s famine, which the government could well have avoided, more than 10 million suffered from malnutrition and hundreds of thousands starved to death. Other estimates put the death toll at 2 million or more. Systematic human rights violations and crimes against humanity are committed on a daily basis. Minorities such as disabled people enjoy no protection whatsoever. „Enemies of the people" and other dissidents are publicly executed under political crimes provisions of the penal code. In 2002, North Korea admitted to the abduction of hundreds of South Koreans and Japanese. Due to heavy border patrols, only a small number of North Koreans have managed to escape - about 700 refugees have reached South Korea since the end of war and a few thousand have probably crossed to China. Detailed accounts of Communist atrocities in the nuclear-armed Stalinist state can hardly be provided today as statistics are fragmentary and virtually no information can be obtained from inside North Korea.