Forced abortions and infanticide – the purposeful causing of a baby’s death – are among the human rights atrocities experienced by women who have attempted to flee North Korea, according to a United Nations Human Rights report.
100 women have shared ‘heartbreaking’ first-hand accounts of the suffering they and their babies have suffered while in North Korean detention centres.
Researchers found abortions were routinely conducted without the consent of the women detainees and often through violence.
Additionally, they were told about “the killing of new-born babies and the death of women due to lack of medical assistance”.
‘No medical attention’
In one tragic incident of infanticide, one woman’s baby was killed by officials who had forced a premature delivery. The mother reportedly died one week later because she had not received any medical assistance.
The eyewitness account states: “She was taken out of the holding centre and given an injection to make her miscarry. I saw her giving birth with my own eyes… I heard crying, but then the baby was placed face down, wrapped in plastic and taken out of the cell by a prison guard… No medical attention was given [to the mother]. She died after a week or so.”
Left to die in the cold
In another incident, one woman told researchers she may have witnessed a baby left to die in temperatures well below freezing after officials had tortured her heavily pregnant mother to induce premature labour.
She said: “The guards put bricks on her back, and forced her to walk around. She had to walk with the bricks every day for a week or so. She eventually gave birth. The baby was alive when born. I was told to wrap the baby and put it outside. The woman had to work the following day.”
The witness did not see what happened to the baby, but believes the baby may have been left to die in sub-zero conditions during North Korea’s winter.
One woman disclosed how another woman was forced to have an abortion as her baby had a Chinese father.
“I suffered no violence but the other woman had become pregnant in China so the guards knew that her baby had Chinese blood. This was an issue as the local laws prevented any North Korean woman from giving birth to a mixed race baby. The doctor in the MPS centre told her to get an abortion despite the fact that she wanted to keep the baby. She was eventually forced to have an abortion and sent to a kyohwaso…,” the report said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said: “These accounts show once again the systemic nature of human rights violations in the DPRK, and the need to keep seeking pathways to proper accountability for such crimes.
“The UN Human Rights Office will continue to gather evidence of this kind to support a process of criminal accountability, whenever and wherever possible.”
The report concludes with recommendations calling for the Government to bring the detention system into line with international norms and standards.
One recommendation states the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) should “take immediate measures to end forced abortion as well as violence intended to provoke miscarriage, including through specific legislation prohibiting such practices, and conduct prompt and impartial investigations into allegations of such acts; and ensure the prosecution of those responsible.”
‘We heard mothers screaming’
Speaking at a UN event in 2017, Ji Hyeon described how she was forced to have an abortion without medication at a local police station when she was three months pregnant.
“My first child passed away without ever seeing the world, without any time for me to apologize,” she tearfully said.
“Pregnant women were forced into harsh labour all day. At night, we heard pregnant mothers screaming and babies died without ever being able to see their mothers.”
At one detention centre, she described how inmates starved to death with their dead bodies given to the guard dogs for food.
A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: “The barbarity being reported in North Korea is shocking. Forced abortion is not restricted to North Korea, however, and is a barbaric practice which we must work to end wherever it happens.”