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Country Profile

Area: 121,555 sq km (75,364 square miles) (55% of the peninsula)
Population: 24,052,231 (UN-assisted DPRK census 2008)
Capital City: Pyongyang
People: Korean, with small Chinese minorities.
Language(s): Korean, although more formal and with less borrowed Western vocabulary than in the South.
Religion(s): Buddhism, Christianity and Chondo (a Korean syncretic religion) are officially recognised but not freely practiced.
Currency: North Korean Won (officially around 140 to the euro although market rates are much higher). Foreigners are required to use foreign currency, Euros, US dollars and Renminbi are most commonly accepted.
Major political parties: Workers' Party of Korea (WPK)
Government: Centralist one-party state led by Workers' Party of Korea with elected Supreme People's Assembly
President: Kim Il Sung is the Eternal President under the 1998 Constitution although he died in 1994. His son Kim Jong Il is in charge of political, military and economic affairs as Chairman of the National Defence Commission and General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea
Head of State: Kim Yong Nam represents the state as President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly.
Foreign Minister: Pak Ui-Chun(since May 2007)
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Food and Agriculture Organisation, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Maritime Organisation, International Telecommunications Union, Non-Aligned Movement, United Nations, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, Universal Postal Union, World Health Organisation, World Intellectual Property Organisation, World Meteorological Organisation.

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DPRK has an extensive, free medical care system. Medical personnel retain core primary healthcare skills but the quality of care and availability of resources has deteriorated markedly since the economic decline in the 1990s. Because of this, and persistent, chronic malnutrition, life expectancy has fallen sharply.

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Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$40 billion (2009 est.)
GDP per head: US$1,800 (2009 est.)
GDP Real Growth: -0.9% (2009 est.)
GDP Composition: agriculture – 20.9%, industry – 46.9%, services – 32.1% (2002 est.)
Major Industries: Although DPRK's population is predominantly urbanised, agriculture still accounts for around one-fifth of economic activity. Dominance of heavy industry, including steel, cement and machinery, and mining has declined since the 1990s. Major industries are now believed to include military equipment, machine tools, electric power, chemicals, mining, metallurgy, textiles, food processing and tourism. Development of the IT sector has enjoyed high-level backing with the media highlighting CNC (computer numerical control) machinery.
Major trading partners: China, Russia, India and Singapore.
Aid and development: The combination of a recurrent food production deficit, compounded by the withdrawal of Soviet and Chinese food aid and a succession of natural disasters in the mid-1990s prompted DPRK to request humanitarian aid from the UN in 1995. Following ten years of large-scale assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP), DPRK announced in August 2005 that from January 2006 it would no longer accept humanitarian aid, despite the widely held view that its humanitarian needs were serious and ongoing. The UNDP implemented limited development assistance in the DPRK until it was forced to withdraw in March 2007 after questions were raised about its financial operations. After the Nemeth Report exonerated it of wrongdoing the UNDP resumed its programme in DPRK in 2010.

The DPRK faces major economic challenges. Despite the early and successful establishment of a heavy industrial base after the Korean War, the effects of over-stretched resources and distortions from central planning became apparent in the 1970s. The DPRK entered international markets but was unable to achieve the necessary level of exports and subsequently ran a trade deficit. Unpaid debts led to a decline in foreign trade. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the break-up of the COMECON economic system, and the ending of cheap energy imports from the Communist Bloc worsened the situation. Agricultural crisis and economic collapse led ultimately to famine in the mid-1990s, during which 500,000-2 million people are estimated to have starved to death.

In July 2002, DPRK announced partial marketisation measures, allowing state-set prices for selected commodities to adjust near their market levels, while wages in priority sectors were boosted. In spring 2003 the authorities relaxed restrictions on farmers' markets, giving ordinary citizens limited freedom to buy and sell a range of food and manufactured goods. The thaw in North-South relations under South Korean Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun saw the establishment of the Kaesong Industrial Zone, just north of the DMZ and only 50 kilometres from Seoul. The zone, run by the Hyundai Asan Corporation is a production and re-export platform for South Korean small and medium enterprises, employing over 46,000 North Koreans. A rail link connecting Seoul to the zone has been operating sporadically since December 2007. While the zone is a source of hard currency for the DPRK, the deterioration in inter-Korean relations since the election of President Lee Myung-bak in the South has led to frequent disruptions to cross-border transport links and expulsions or withdrawals of South Korean staff.

Such initiatives, while radical by the standards of traditional state planning, failed to fundamentally alter DPRK's supply-demand imbalances, manifested in chronic inflation and persistent trade deficits. Meanwhile, the new importance of money in DPRK created a more visible wealth divide between 'winners' and 'losers'. The Government tried to resolve the problem through currency reforms at the end of 2009 but these had only a temporary and negative impact.

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Korea is an ancient civilisation. It developed from walled-town states and larger kingdoms and became united in the 7th century. After being 'opened' by Japan in 1876, China, Japan and Russia competed for influence until Japan annexed the country in 1910. The end of the Second World War freed Korea from 35 years of Japanese rule although a US-Soviet decision left the country divided into separate occupation zones along the 38th Parallel after Japan's surrender. The Republic of Korea (ROK) was founded with US support in the south on 15 August 1948 and the Soviet-backed Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north on 9 September.

On 25 June 1950 the DPRK invaded the ROK and quickly over-ran most of the country. A United Nations Command (UNC) was established under UN Security Council resolutions to assist the ROK. After the successful defence of a 'perimeter' near the south-east port of Pusan and US landings at Inchon near Seoul in September, UN and ROK forces beat DPRK forces back north, almost to the Chinese border. Chinese 'volunteer' forces entered the war in November 1950 and the battle line was again pushed south of Seoul before UN and ROK forces held and then pushed Chinese and DPRK forces back to near the 38th Parallel. The war devastated the peninsula. Seoul changed hands four times and was badly damaged. With US air supremacy, the UNC was able to destroy almost every building of importance in the north. Over one million died on each side with heavier casualties for the DPRK. An armistice was signed between the DPRK/China and UNC on 27 July 1953. The ROK refused to sign but agreed to abide by its terms.

With the Korean War having been so bitterly fought, tension between DPRK and ROK remained high after 1953. There were numerous armed clashes but the national dream of Korean reunification remained. In 1960, Kim Il Sung proposed pursuing reunification through confederation between equals, similar to China's much later 'one country, two systems' policy, and, with minor refinements, this formula remains in place. In the early 1970s, the Koreas opened a Red Cross dialogue followed by political talks that produced the Joint Communiqué of July 1972 in which the DPRK and ROK agreed to work for peaceful reunification.

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DPRK's relations with the International Community

At the end of the Cold War, DPRK's diplomatic position was undercut when its former wartime allies, China and Russia, established diplomatic relations with the ROK. It failed to establish new links of its own and thus found itself isolated as the ROK developed thriving economic relations, especially with China. The nuclear crisis of 1993-94 resulted in direct talks with the US and the signing of the Agreed Framework in October 1994. This led to the establishment of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO), including the ROK, Japan, US, and EU, that was to provide the DPRK with interim heavy fuel oil and proliferation-resistant light water reactors (LWR) in return for North Korea freezing its nuclear programme. Following DPRK's apparent admission to the US in October 2002 that it had been pursuing a clandestine uranium enrichment programme to produce fissile material, KEDO suspended its activities and the organisation has since closed down.

From the late 1990s until 2002, DPRK embarked on a period of diplomatic outreach, reaffirming ties with China and Russia through high-profile summits, while establishing relations with a number of countries, including most EU member states. However, DPRK's relations with the outside world have remained erratic, marred by renewed tensions about nuclear and missile proliferation, illicit activities and a very poor record on human rights.
In December 2002, DPRK began reactivating its mothballed reactor at Yongbyon, ejected international monitors and announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In the wake of these escalations, trilateral discussions among China, DPRK and the US were held in Beijing in April 2003. With the inclusion of Japan, South Korea and Russia, Six Party Talks were inaugurated under Chinese sponsorship in August 2003. Following halting progress after three rounds, on 10 February 2005 the DPRK announced that it was suspending its participation in the talks indefinitely and asserted for the first time that it had manufactured nuclear weapons for self-defence.

North Korea eventually agreed to return to the talks in July 2005. The fourth round concluded promisingly with a Joint Statement released on 19 September, committing DPRK to dismantle its nuclear weapons and abandon its nuclear programmes in return for security assurances, bilateral and multilateral promotion of economic cooperation in the fields of energy, trade and investment, and energy assistance. A fifth round was convened in November 2005, but broke up amid rancour. The talks remained suspended for over a year, with the DPRK citing US 'financial sanctions' for its refusal to discuss implementation of the Joint Statement.

On 5 July 2006, DPRK test-fired a total of seven ballistic missiles of various types and ranges, including the long-range Taepodong-II, believed capable of reaching parts of the United States, but which failed shortly into its maiden flight. The launches met widespread international condemnation as a destabilising development for regional security and beyond. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1695 on 15 July 2006 condemning the launches. It further demanded that DPRK halt all activities related to its ballistic missile programme and re-affirm its 1999 moratorium on flight-testing.

On 9 October 2006 DPRK announced that it had conducted an underground nuclear test in the country's northeast. While the regime claimed this as a complete success, the size of the explosion was comparatively small and could have been a partial failure. The test met concerted and prompt international opposition, expressed through UN Security Council Resolution 1718, adopted unanimously on 14 October. Under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the resolution mandates co-operative action by states to prevent the provision of nuclear technology, large-scale weapons and luxury goods to DPRK. It further imposes an asset freeze and travel ban on persons related to DPRK's nuclear-weapon programme and permits the inspection of cargo. DPRK's Ambassador to the UN responded by deriding the resolution as "gangster-like" on the one hand, while reiterating that DPRK's intention to denuclearize the Korean peninsula through dialogue and negotiation remained unchanged. In late October 2006, following trilateral discussions with the US and China in Beijing, DPRK announced its intention to return to the Talks.

The fifth round of Six Party Talks finished with a meeting on 8-13 February 2007 at which the Parties renewed their commitment to the Joint Statement of 19 September 2005 under a new agreement (13th February Agreement). Specifically, the DPRK agreed to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear facility and allow inspections by IAEA personnel. In return, the Parties agreed to provide energy assistance to the DPRK up to the equivalent of one million tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO). The Agreement established five Working Groups tasked with formulating plans to implement the Joint Statement. They focus on DPRK-US relations, DPRK-Japan relations, denuclearisation, economy and energy cooperation, and a Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism.

The meetings took place as scheduled but the shutdown of the Yongbyon facility and shipment of oil were delayed due to problems arising from the freezing of DPRK funds in the Banco Delta Asia in Macau. This problem was not fully resolved until mid-June, when the DPRK invited IAEA inspectors who were able to verify that the nuclear facility was shut down on 16 July, just after the first shipment of oil was delivered.

Following further shipments of oil and meetings of the Working Groups, the DPRK agreed at the Six Party Talks in Beijing on 3 October 2007 to disable all existing nuclear facilities and to provide, also by the end of the year, a complete declaration of all its nuclear programmes and facilities. The DPRK also reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how. In return, it was to get the remainder of the 1 million tonnes of energy assistance; and the prospect of further progress on normalisation of relations with the US and Japan.

Towards the end of 2007, the DPRK started to claim that not all members of the Six Party Talks were fully living up to their commitments and slowed the disablement process. When the US declared that the DPRK had failed to provide a “complete and accurate” declaration of its nuclear programmes by the end of the year, the DPRK responded by claiming that it had given the US a declaration in November. The Six-Party Talks process appeared to have stalled. Throughout 2008 the Six-Party Talks followed a ‘stop-start’ pattern, with DPRK finally submitting an acceptable declaration in June and the US responding by taking the DPRK off its list of terrorist-sponsoring states. In December DPRK withdrew from the process again, this time in protest at US insistence upon verification of its nuclear programme. There was no further activity as the new Obama Administration reviewed its North Korea policy. Then, on 5 April 2009, the DPRK attempted to launch a satellite, using ballistic missile technology, despite calls from its neighbours, the US, EU and UN not to go ahead with this plan. The launch was condemned in a statement issued by the Presidency of the UN Security Council as a contravention of UNSCR 1718. This was followed by a tightening of the sanctions imposed under the Resolution. The DPRK responded by threatening to test launch Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles and carry out nuclear tests if the UN did not reverse its decision on sanctions and apologise for its action.
It partially carried out this threat on 25th May 2009, when it conducted its second underground nuclear test. The UN Security Council called an emergency meeting that day and, after three weeks of negotiations, adopted UNSCR 1874 on 12th June 2009. This condemned the nuclear test in the strongest terms, and built on the sanctions measures put in place by UNSCR 1718 in 2006, including an embargo on all arms exports from DPRK. Since then the DPRK has tested the international community’s resolve by attempting to continue arms exports.

Recent events

The DPRK sinking of an ROK navy vessel in March 2010 and shelling of an island near the disputed ROK/DPRK maritime boundary in November 2010 led to almost universal condemnation by the international community. The US and Japan called for the DPRK to deal with the aftermath of these provocations by positively engaging with the ROK. US-DPRK engagement, and resumption of the Six-Party Talks, would depend upon progress in North-South dialogue.

ROK/DPRK relations

Relations between South Korea and the DPRK have remained tense since 1953, with military clashes incurring significant loss of life occurring as recently as 2009 and 2010. These have been predominantly provocations by the DPRK and reversed the previous general thaw, which successive governments in Seoul had pushed for through their policy of engagement.

After his inauguration in 1998, ROK President Kim Dae-jung introduced a policy of dialogue and co-operation, aimed at reducing tension on the peninsula. This culminated in a Summit with Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in June 2000. In the 15 June Joint Declaration both sides agreed five common goals: to work independently for national unification; to recognise the common elements in the two sides' proposals for federation-confederation; to co-operate to promote a balanced national economy; to promote exchanges and co-operation; and to work towards the settlement of some humanitarian issues, including family reunions. Post-summit, a plethora of dialogue channels and high-level meetings spurred co-operation in many fields, including the establishment of the Kaesong Industrial Zone and the Mount Kumgang tourist zone within DPRK. Progress in inter-Korean dialogue was complicated by heightened US-DPRK tensions after 2002. The Bush Administration's approach towards North Korea, including its designation as a member of the 'axis of evil' in January 2002, did not always sit easily alongside the engagement policies of Kim Dae-jung and his successor Roh Moo-hyun.

Following his inauguration in February 2003, President Roh indicated that his peace and prosperity policy towards North Korea would basically adhere to the 'Sunshine policy'. In a joint declaration following the US/ROK summit in May, President Roh stated that future inter-Korean exchanges and co-operation would be conducted in light of developments on the DPRK nuclear issue. The North Koreans responded by calling into question South Korea's commitment to the 15th June 2000 Declaration. After the DPRK’s nuclear test in October 2006, the ROK delayed its response to a DPRK request for food aid. In November 2006, DPRK warned the ROK of "grave consequences" in retaliation for South Korea's unprecedented vote in favour of a North Korean human rights resolution in the UN General Assembly, claiming that it had destroyed the foundation of the 15 June Joint Declaration. But a range of inter-Korean meetings continued to take place and, as the DPRK started to implement the actions that it committed itself to at the Six Party Talks, ROK shipments of oil and food to the DPRK resumed. At an Inter-Korean Summit in October 2007 - the first since 2000 and only the second ever - the two sides agreed on the need to move towards a peace treaty to end the Korean War, and on expanded economic co-operation.

During his election campaign, current ROK President Lee Myung-bak pledged to push a project to raise the DPRK's GDP to $ 3,000 per capita within 10 years, transforming it into an export oriented economy through the investment of $40 billion in an international co-operation fund. But he also made it clear that economic assistance would be conditional on DPRK progress on denuclearisation and human rights. The DPRK objected when the ROK voted for UN resolutions on DPRK human rights in March and November 2008, and March 2009. In response, the DPRK has strongly criticised Lee. Lee has continued to stress that he would be willing to engage and provide humanitarian aid but this would be conditional upon progress on denuclearisation. Relations between the two have continued on a downward path.

Inter-Korean relations deteriorated further when on 26 March 2010, a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, was sunk near the disputed maritime border killing forty six of the sailors on board. An international investigation concluded that a torpedo from a DPRK submarine was to blame, though the north denied any involvement. On 23 November 2010, DPRK troops fired artillery towards Yeonpyeong Island near the Yellow Sea border, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians, and causing numerous other casualties.

DPRK's relations with the USA

The US and DPRK do not have diplomatic relations and remain officially at war. In more than 50 years since the end of the Korean War, tensions have flared periodically between the DPRK and the US. The nuclear crisis of 1993-94 brought tensions to a dangerous pitch, until the conclusion of the Agreed Framework. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to Pyongyang in October 2000 marked the high-point of US-DPRK relations, although doubts persisted about DPRK's nuclear ambitions.

In early 2002, amidst growing suspicions regarding DPRK's continuing pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and illicit activities, the Bush administration branded North Korea as part of an 'Axis of Evil'. In October, a senior North Korean official allegedly admitted to US Assistant Secretary James Kelly that DPRK possessed a clandestine uranium-enrichment programme. Despite mounting tension, the US continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the DPRK, mainly through the WFP.

The US has publicly stated on several occasions, most recently in June 2009, that it does not have a hostile policy towards North Korea and that it neither intends to attack nor invade. However, citing various US "hostile policies" as the cause, the North on repeated occasions delayed its return to the Six Party Talks and excused its pursuit of nuclear and WMD deterrents in contravention of UN resolutions. However, the DPRK recognises that the US is its key dialogue partner in the Six Party Talks.

DPRK's relations with China/Russia/Japan

DPRK's relations with China and Russia had been improving until 2002 but have also been marred by renewed tensions on the peninsula. This improvement had been reflected in a number of high-level inward visits to the DPRK, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and official visits by Kim Jong Il to China and Russia. China was instrumental in bringing North Korea to talks on the nuclear issue by acting as host and convenor of the Six Party Talks since August 2003. Without official ties, DPRK's relations with the former colonial power, Japan, have remained estranged, marked by alternating bouts of tension and détente. The DPRK continued to demand compensation and an apology from the Japanese for the colonisation of Korea as pre-requisites to progress on normalisation. During former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to Pyongyang in September 2002, the DPRK admitted that it had abducted several Japanese citizens in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This caused public outrage in Japan, and the surviving abductees were allowed to visit their families in Japan (where they subsequently settled), but not to take their children with them. In May 2004, Prime Minister Koizumi visited Pyongyang again and returned with the abductees' children. However, relations have since deteriorated further amidst mounting public anger in Japan over unresolved abductions issues and ongoing security concerns about DPRK's missile and nuclear programmes. Following DPRK's nuclear test on 9 October 2006, Japan enacted bilateral sanctions against DPRK in addition to those mandated under UN Security Council Resolution 1718, and renewed these following the 25th May 2009 nuclear test. Bilateral trade, which had been significant, has shrunk to minimal levels.

DPRK's relations with the EU

Most EU members, and the European Commission, have now established diplomatic relations with the DPRK. Only France and Estonia have not. Then Swedish Prime Minister, Mr Persson, (who held the Presidency of the EU at the time), EU High Representative Javier Solana and Commissioner Chris Patten visited the DPRK on 2-3 May 2001. The visit achieved its stated objectives of having extensive talks with Kim Jong Il, obtaining confirmation of a DPRK commitment to a second Inter-Korean Summit, and holding discussions on issues such as human rights, missiles and economic reform. During the visit, the DPRK also reaffirmed its moratorium on missile testing until 2003.

In November 2000 the EU adopted agreed lines of action towards the DPRK. These stated that the EU's relations with the DPRK, and those of its Member States, would take into account: continuation by the DPRK of the rapprochement begun with the ROK; responsible behaviour with regard to nuclear and ballistic non-proliferation; developments in the human rights situation, in particular observance of the UN Conventions on human rights; and access by the population to external aid, including satisfactory working conditions for foreign NGOs active in the DPRK. The EU has been instrumental in tabling resolutions on DPRK at the UN Commission on Human Rights every year since 2003, concluding that the DPRK authorities have not taken concrete steps to address the international community's concerns about reports of serious human rights violations. All resolutions were adopted by a clear majority. The EU has also sponsored a resolution on DPRK human rights at the UN General Assembly every year since the UK Presidency of the EU in 2005. In 2008, ROK agreed to co-sponsor (with Japan and others) for the first time.

EU Troika delegations have visited Pyongyang four times since December 2003, (November 2004, March 2007, March 2009) the last occasion being in November 2010. They held talks with the DPRK authorities on a number of issues, including North Korea's nuclear programmes and human rights.

DPRK's relations with the UK

Britain and the DPRK established diplomatic relations on 12 December 2000. The UK took this decision in the light of progress made in the DPRK-ROK dialogue. It was agreed to establish resident missions in each other's capital.

Diplomatic Representation

The British Embassy in Pyongyang opened in July 2001. David Slinn was the first British Ambassador and arrived in Pyongyang in November 2002. The present Ambassador, Karen Wolstenholme took up her appointment in October 2011. The Government of the DPRK opened an Embassy in London in November 2002. Ambassador Ja Song Nam took up his appointment in February 2007.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in December 2000, several high-level DPRK delegations have visited the UK, including one led by Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon in December 2001. Mr Choe returned to the UK for further talks in late April 2003. Choe Thae Bok, Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly visited London in March 2004, and Vice Foreign Minister Kung Sok Ung visited in May 2004.There have been further visits at official level, most recently a delegation from the Workers Party of Korea in January 2009 and Choe Thae Bok again in March 2011.

Bill Rammell, former FCO Minister responsible for relations with DPRK, visited Pyongyang from 11-14 September 2004. The visit was the only one to date by a British Minister and included meetings with the Foreign Minister, three Vice Foreign Ministers and the Chairman of the People's Supreme Assembly. Mr Rammell pressed the DPRK authorities hard on human rights and the nuclear issue. He urged the North Koreans to agree to a visit by then UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Vitit Muntarbhorn, and for a further visit by the Head of the FCO Human Rights, Democracy and Governance Group. The DPRK authorities have not granted either visit.

The UK has provided English language and human rights training for DPRK officials in the UK, and funds four British Council English Language Teacher Training lecturers at three universities in Pyongyang.

The British Embassy in Pyongyang also administers a range of bilaterally funded humanitarian projects in DPRK and aims to increase exposure of DPRK people to UK culture and values through public diplomacy activities.

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The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) forms the northern half of the Korean peninsula, which lies between China and Japan, and so is often referred to as North Korea. Its capital city, Pyongyang, lies to the west. The DPRK has a land area about the same as England. The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), which separates the DPRK from the Republic of Korea (ROK) to the south, is a 250-mile long heavily fortified strip of land, running from the east coast to the west, close to the 38th Parallel.

Mountains or upland account for 80% of the DPRK (compared to 70% in the ROK). But the country has sizeable deposits of coal, other minerals, and non-ferrous metals and many of its rivers are suitable for generating hydroelectric power.

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According to the DPRK, it is an 'independent socialist state representing the interests of all the Korean people' with sovereignty residing in 'the workers, peasants, working intellectuals and all other working people'. The Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) is effectively the only political party. However, under Kim Jong Il real power rests with a military-centred elite. The DPRK follows the principle of Juche, a system based on independence and self-reliance, although in recent years 'military-first' or 'Songun' politics has become DPRK's guiding slogan. The DPRK's foreign policy principles are 'independence, peace and solidarity'.

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The DPRK has ratified four of the major UN Conventions: the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Among those not ratified are conventions relating to slavery and trafficking in humans, and refugees and migration.

The DPRK has partially and belatedly met its reporting obligations under the various conventions to which it is a party. A national Human Rights Committee was established in 1992, but appears to function only sporadically. It is not independent from government.

Although a limited relaxation of economic controls has taken place in recent years, punishment can be severe for those who transgress established norms, regulations and laws. Information is anecdotal and sometimes out-dated, as the main source is defectors who may spend several years in China before their eventual resettlement to the ROK. Hence, it is difficult to accurately assess numbers involved. But it seems likely that a very large number of individuals have suffered and continue to suffer from practices that represent extremely serious violations of their human rights. DPRK practices the death penalty, and there have been recent reports of public executions, but there is no authoritative information on the extent of its use. The penal code, which was revised in 2004, contains provisions for the death penalty for ill-defined crimes such as 'counter revolutionary activity'.
Numerous reports exist concerning the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading forms of treatment or punishment. Information by defectors also indicates that a system of forced labour camps remains in operation. Conditions in these camps are extremely harsh and the mortality rate high. Another type of camp is focused on 'rehabilitation' through labour, where conditions are consequently less harsh, but still represent severe punishment by Western standards.

The DPRK government does not allow any independent domestic organisation to monitor human rights conditions. Requests for visits by international human rights organisations have been largely ignored. One visit by Amnesty International was allowed in 1996. The resulting report was regarded as hostile and Amnesty has not been able to visit again.

The EU has continued to monitor the human rights situation in North Korea closely. The UK has supported the annual resolutions on DPRK adopted by UNCHR and subsequently the Human Rights Council since 2003. The EU further tabled resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly every year between 2005 and 2010 urging DPRK compliance with the international community's concerns including access for the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights. The UK takes every opportunity to emphasise this message to the DPRK authorities, both at Ministerial and official levels.

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Last Updated: November 2011

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