Report reveals continuing discrimination of defectors in South Korea

Bae Min Kwon  |  2017-03-17 16:39
According to a survey released this week, close to half (45.4%) of all defectors living in South Korea say that they have experienced discrimination due to their North Korean background.
Working with Inha University, Korea's National Human Rights Commission released its report on March 14th of a survey asking defectors in the South about their living conditions and experiences. The survey targeted citizens above 19 years of age and includes results based on the answers of 480 respondents.
The report notes that "there are many instances of defectors actively concealing their backgrounds due to anxiety over the consequences of revealing such information."
"Perceived prejudice or mistreatment in the workplace typically prevents adults from telling others that they are from North Korea," the report says, adding that "parents also often try to hide this information from administrators and their child's peers when they enter school."
It was revealed that defectors also face discrimination based on their academic history, work history, age (for instance, when pursuing adult education), and economic status - all of which are influenced by their time in North Korea.
At the same time, they do not feel that they can easily find recourse or complain about such treatment. According to the survey, 27.7% said that they take no action after facing discrimination. 16.2% of respondents said that they try to take the issue up with their local civic action group or defector community, and 13.6% attempt to resolve the issue personally or through the relevant school or office management. Very few take the issue any higher, with 11.3% reporting incidents to the police and 8.7% to the National Human Rights Commission.
These incidents likely stem from the vastly disparate notion of civil liberties between the two Koreas. The report highlights the fact that 74.4% of respondents answered that they had never heard of the concept of 'human rights' while living in the North.
Various other aspects of life in North Korea that constitute human rights violations were also noted. 85.6% said that they did not feel they had the right to privacy while they were in North Korea, 64% had been forced to witness a public execution, 35% experienced discrimination based on their songbun (family background and political class designation), and 26% answered that they had at some point been unjustly physically assaulted by the authorities.
A majority of defectors, despite being unaccustomed to the notion of exercising their rights afforded under South Korean law, feel satisfied with the protection of human rights overall in the country. However, considering that they have escaped a regime that hides from its citizens the very concept of human rights, the remaining 22.3% who responded that they were dissatisfied with the situation in the South represents a significant opportunity for improvement.
In response to the findings in the report, the Human Rights Commission stated that more needs to be done to provide human rights education and legal anti-discrimination protection to defectors living in South Korea.

*Translated by Colin Zwirko
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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