Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

North Korea


Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free

North Korea is a single-party state led by a dynastic totalitarian dictatorship. Surveillance is pervasive, arbitrary arrests and detention are common, and punishments for political offenses are severe. The state maintains a system of camps for political prisoners where torture, forced labor, starvation, and other atrocities take place. A UN commission of inquiry into the human rights situation in North Korea in 2014 found violations to be widespread, grave, and systematic, rising to the level of crimes against humanity.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • In 2016, North Korea conducted two nuclear weapons tests, a satellite launch, and more than 20 ballistic missile tests, drawing condemnation and harsher sanctions from the international community.
  • In May, the ruling Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) held its first congress in 36 years, which reinforced the state’s ideological roots, announced a new Five-Year Plan, and created the post of KWP chairman for incumbent leader Kim Jong-un.
  • At the June session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament, the State Affairs Commission was established as the government’s new top power organ, with Kim Jong-un serving as chairman.
Executive Summary: 

North Korea began 2016 by conducting a nuclear weapons test in January and a satellite launch in February, both prohibited under existing UN resolutions. In response, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2270, which imposed tougher sanctions on the country, including restrictions on mineral exports. Nevertheless, the regime subsequently proceeded with more than 20 ballistic missile tests, as well as its fifth nuclear test in September. The Security Council followed up with additional sanctions in November.

In May, the ruling KWP held its first party congress since 1980 and its seventh overall. The party introduced a new Five-Year Plan at the gathering, and adopted revisions to its charter, including the institutionalization of the so-called byungjin policy of dual nuclear and economic development and the creation of the post of party chairman for Kim Jong-un. In June, the Supreme People’s Assembly adopted constitutional changes that established the State Affairs Commission, replacing the National Defense Commission as the highest ruling organ.

In August, flooding caused by Typhoon Lionrock devastated parts of North Hamgyong Province, killing hundreds of people, destroying tens of thousands of homes, and leaving at least 140,000 people in urgent need of assistance. The scale of the disaster led North Korea to move domestic resources to this area and seek international humanitarian assistance. However, international responses were limited due to the regime’s provocative behavior throughout the year. 

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