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UN Report: Many North Koreans Paying Bribes Just to Survive

2019-5-30

A United Nations report says many North Koreans are forced to pay bribes to receive food and other necessities of life.

The U.N. Human Rights office published the report this week. It was based on discussions with more than 200 North Korean “escapees” who fled their homeland.

The report said North Korea’s economy has long been failing and that the government is unable to provide its citizens with “life’s basic necessities.”

Michelle Bachelet is the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. In a statement, she said the U.N. believes people in all countries of the world should be given “rights to food, health, shelter, work and freedom of movement.”

FILE - South Korean protesters and North Korean defectors attend a rally urging the United States to discuss North Korean human rights issue in an upcoming meeting between Trump and Kim.
FILE - South Korean protesters and North Korean defectors attend a rally urging the United States to discuss North Korean human rights issue in an upcoming meeting between Trump and Kim.

In North Korea, however, such rights “depend primarily on the ability of individuals to bribe state officials,” Bachelet said.

“Since the economic collapse of the 1990s, (North Koreans) have been unable to survive through a state-led model of centralized economic planning and distribution,” the U.N. said in a statement.

This situation has forced North Koreans to seek out activities outside the country’s official economic system to survive, the report said. It added that seeking out such activities to get food and other necessities has become an important part of survival.

However, citizens who take part in this kind of economic activity risk being arrested and detained, the report noted.

U.N. officials estimated earlier this month that about 10 million North Koreans are experiencing severe food shortages and lack safe drinking water. The 2018 Global Hunger Index called North Korea’s hunger situation “serious” and “bordering on alarming.”

Experts say further cuts to already low government food rations are expected, following the worst harvest in 10 years.

North Korean officials rejected the U.N. report. The country’s U.N. office in Switzerland said in a statement, “Such reports are nothing more than fabrication.”

North Korea has blamed its economic problems and humanitarian situation on economic restrictions the U.N. has placed on the country. The restrictions were put in place to punish North Korea for its nuclear and missile development programs. The new U.N. report accuses the North Korean government of increasing military funding while carrying out “economic mismanagement” in other areas.

Michelle Bachelet said she is concerned that the North Korean nuclear issue is continuing to limit the attention on “the terrible state of human rights for many millions of North Koreans.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on a story from Reuters and the United Nations report. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

bribe n. money or a gift given to someone to get them to do something for someone else

primarily adj. mainly

distribution n. the activity of supplying or delivering things to people

alarming adj. worrying or frightening

ration n. the amount of something a person is permitted to have when supplies are low

fabrication - n. an invention of facts

mismanagement - n. controlling or handling something badly