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North Korea Is Sending Workers Abroad Again Amid Fresh Crackdown on Human Rights

February 14, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ 

Kim Jong Un has sent new batches of his workers overseas since relaxing pandemic border controls and launched a fresh crackdown on his people, according to the U.S. point person for North Korean human rights.

“What we’ve seen is that the human rights situation in North Korea has worsened,” Julie Turner, the State Department’s special envoy on the country’s human rights issues, told reporters Wednesday during a visit to Tokyo. “Covid-19 allowed the North Korean government to tighten many of the controls inside North Korea,” she said.

North Korea has sent its workers to Russia and China for years, where they earn hard currency desperately needed by Pyongyang in defiance of United Nations resolutions that ban the moves. Kim has recently stepped up cooperation with Russia through the transfer of arms to help President Vladimir Putin in his war on Ukraine, the U.S. has said.

Late last year, Kim’s regime began allowing workers, diplomats and students stranded abroad due to his decision to close the borders during the pandemic to return home. He now appears to be sending workers abroad, Turner said.

“There is certainly a process going on right now to bring many of those individuals home, but at the same time we are seeing movements of new groups of workers being dispatched overseas,” she said.

Turner did not specify where the workers may be going, but added Russia is a country of concern and there are still many North Korean workers who have remained in China. 

Around 300 workers from North Korea arrived in Russia by train this month, Yonhap News of South Korea reported Wednesday, citing Cho Han-bum, a senior research fellow at the state-funded Korea Institute for National Unification.

Governments in the U.S. and Europe for years have condemned North Korea for what they see as chronic and systematic human rights abuses. The U.S. State Department’s most recent annual report on human rights said there are credible reports of arbitrary killings, forced disappearances and a network of political prisons engaged in torture in North Korea.

Kim’s regime has bristled at any criticism of its human rights record for decades. The state’s propaganda apparatus in December carried a report that accused Turner of “staging various sorts of fanatical anti-DPRK ‘human rights’ rackets,” that are intended to demonize Pyongyang and bring down the leaders of the country formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

Turner said the comments indicate North Korea is paying attention to what the U.S. has been saying about the human rights situation under Kim.

Kim oversaw tests Wednesday of what North Korea said were new types of cruise missiles designed to defend against an invasion and frustrate “the adventurous attempt of the enemy navy,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported. It was the fifth such barrage of cruise missiles fired off in the past several weeks.



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