Authorities promote human rights education but citizens remain skeptical

Kang Mi Jin  |  2017-11-01 16:18
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The North Korean authorities have reportedly begun promoting constitutional education and awareness of human rights under the nation's laws. Although highly unusual, it appears to be part of the government's wider propaganda efforts to show the world they are making improvements.
A source in Ryanggang Province informed Daily NK on October 30 that "various organizations and inminban (people's unit, a type of neighborhood watch) are holding sessions to educate people about the constitution and civil law. People are being taught how to make official complaints and how to follow up on them accordingly. They are also learning about the process of reporting domestic abuse." 

This appears to be related to North Korea's recent efforts at a meeting with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, held on September 20 in Geneva. North Korean officials distributed information touting the nation's justice system, and explained that the authorities have been in the process of improving education among the people. The government also claimed that they are mobilizing experts across schools to address the corporal punishment issue, and that all students are able to make formal complaints.
But according to the source, this does not appear to be an accurate reflection of reality on the ground in North Korea. "While there are instances of student complaints being resolved, there is no evidence of increasing numbers of experts to address the problem," she pointed out.
Instead, she said that People's Committee members in charge of examining complaints are merely visiting schools and gathering information. Many who have never experienced actual, legal outcomes from their complaints are also treating the new drive with skepticism. 
"Ordinary citizens do not usually bother with lodging complaints because they believe that only well-connected families stand any chance of getting results," she explained.

"People actually fear retribution from the other party if by chance they make a complaint about a powerful person, so they believe its better not to say anything at all."
North Korea's pervasive culture of bribery has also led people to believe that a formal complaint can be derailed at any stage with a bribe.
A source from Jagang Province reflected on an incident last year "where a resident in Jagang Province complained to the local People's Committee after catching another resident stealing pine nuts from the trees around his house, resulting in a scuffle. The thief [who threw the first punch in the fight] should have been punished, but he bribed the relevant interrogators, and instead it was the victim who received a one-month sentence in a disciplinary labor center.

There are, however, some people who see the complaint system as at least one way in which the government "is expressing their interest in hearing the grievances of citizens," said a separate source in Ryanggang Province.
"People's Council members believe that 'the eyes of the people are upon us,' and that they should be somewhat accountable. Ordinary people are starting to see more school-related formal complaints being addressed by officials."

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

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