Wednesday, June 06, 2012

North Korea's Caste System Exposed

Songbun System Assigns Inequality at Birth



A U.S.-based human rights group has released a report detailing how North Korea ranks its citizens based on their family's loyalty to the Kim dynasty in what it says amounts to an oppressive political caste system.

The study released Wednesday by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea says all of the country's citizens are divided into three heredity-based classes: loyal, wavering, or hostile.

The report argues that “inequality is assigned at birth,” and that citizens have little control during the course of their lifetime over their socio-political classification, known as songbun in Korean.

Based on interviews with 75 North Korean defectors, the report says the government keeps a file on each North Korean from the age of 17 that is updated every two years.

It says loyalists enjoy perks such as being able to live in the comparatively modern capital city of Pyongyang, and preferences in access to food, housing, medical treatment, education and employment.

On the other hand, those in the hostile class are forced to live in the most impoverished northeastern provinces, and are often assigned to hard labor positions at mines and farms.

The report estimates that 28 percent of North Koreans are classified as loyal, 45 percent as wavering, and 27 percent as hostile.

It says the songbun system has largely escaped the notice of the Western world, who have instead focused on North Korea's vast camps of political prisoners, public executions, extreme information controls, and nuclear weapons program.