Disability in North Korea
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|Human rights in North Korea|
Reliable information about disability in North Korea, like other information about social conditions in the country, is difficult to find. As of 2016, North Korea is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Under Kim Il-sung, disabled veterans enjoyed a high social status. A factory to employ disabled soldiers was established in 1970. Today, life for the disabled is "sad, if not horrible", according to North Korea scholar Fyodor Tertitskiy.
Disability rights conventions
As a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), North Korea has international obligations to refrain from discriminating against its people based on disability (among others). Under Article 2 of the CRC, "States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or their parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status" (emphasis added).
In May 2017 the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of people with disabilities made a first official visit of eight days to North Korea. At a news conference at the end of her visit the rapporteur, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, called for more attention to be given to disabled people in the country.
Alleged infanticide of babies with birth defects
In 2006, the Associated Press reported from South Korea that a North Korean doctor who defected, Ri Kwang-chol, has claimed that babies born with physical defects are rapidly put to death and buried.
The charity Handicap International reports that it has been operating in North Korea since 1999, assisting the Korean Federation for the Protection of Disabled People, including supporting orthopedic centers serving thousands of disabled people. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported in 2006 that it had assisted in setting up a rehabilitation center for disabled people in Pyongyang. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines reports that North Korea "has a comprehensive system for assisting persons with disabilities; however, this system is limited by the general economic situation of the country."
Still, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Marzuki Darusman, stated the following in his report before the UN Human Rights Council's twenty-second session:
As early as 2003 the Commission on Human Rights expressed deep concern at the "mistreatment of and discrimination of disabled children". Since 2006 the General Assembly has consistently decried "continuing reports of violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities, especially on the use of collective camps and of coercive measures that target the rights of a person with disabilities to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children.” Whereas in 2006 the Special Rapporteur noted, "to date, the situation facing those with disabilities are sent away from the capital city, and particularly those with the mental disabilities are detained in areas or camps known as 'Ward 49' with harsh and subhuman conditions."
North Korea adopted a law in 2003 to promote equal access for disabled people to public services and claimed in its second report on compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that its handicapped citizens are protected. North Korea acceded to this covenant on September 14, 1981. However, its law has not been implemented, and North Korean refugees in the South testify that the handicapped are severely discriminated against unless they are wounded soldiers who say their wounds were the result of American aggression in the Korean War.
By 2008, the United Nations reported that the government was "beginning to consider welfare for the disabled".
Separation in "camps"
In the early 2000s, it was reported that persons with disabilities in North Korea were locked away in camps, and "subjected to harsh and sub-human conditions". Vitit Muntarbhorn, the United Nations' special rapporteur on human rights, reported in 2006 that North Koreans with disabilities were excluded from the country's showcase capital, Pyongyang, and kept in camps where they were categorised by disability. Defectors reported the existence of "collective camps for midgets", whose inmates were forbidden from having children. However the charity Handicap International reports that it has been operating in North Korea since 1999 assisting the Korean Federation for the Protection of Disabled People, and the International Committee of the Red Cross reported in 2006 that it had assisted in setting up a rehabilitation centre for disabled people in Pyongyang.
North Korea made its Paralympic Games début at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, sending a single wildcard representative (Rim Ju-song, a left arm and left leg amputee) to compete in swimming. Yahoo! News reported in 2012 that a Paralympic cultural centre exists in Pyongyang. The country sent two track and field athletes to the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
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- Korean Federation for the Protection of Disabled People at Naenara