More on North Korea here.
It’s now illegal (again) for women to ride bicycles in North Korea. The country’s leader Kim Jung Un reinstated his father’s absurd law, but only after he lifted the ban last year.
The late Kim Jong Il decreed in the mid-90s no woman should ride a bike after the daughter of a top general, the vice-chair of the National Defense Commission, was killed riding a bike in Pyongyang. (source)
Hardly the worst North Korean rights violation, but absurd enough. And part of a mindset. Transportation restrictions have always been popular in totalitarian regimes. They prevent people from socializing, forming groups and realizing that they’re not the only ones living in misery. They also help to impoverish people, focusing their attention on their own individual survival and away from politics.
North Korea’s U.N. delegation declared on Friday that it was proud of Pyongyang’s social system and human rights record and rejected as baseless a U.N. monitor’s report that described appalling human rights abuses in the reclusive country. …
“We have nothing to hide,” [North Korean delegate Kim Song] said. “We have nothing to be afraid of. On the contrary, we are proud of our superior system of promoting and protecting human rights in our country, including free medical care and free education system.”
“We will further develop and strengthen our social system that guarantees promotion and protection of human rights,” he added. (source)
Measuring respect for human rights is most important in societies where respect is a rare commodity. The problem is that it’s not only most important in such societies, but also most difficult. You need a certain level of freedom to measure respect for human rights. And regimes that violate rights also have the means to cover up those violations (see here for example). I’ve called that the catch 22 of rights measurement. One problem is public opinion: a lot of human rights measurement depends on public opinion polls, but such polls are notoriously unreliable in repressive regimes, for obvious reasons: the public in those countries is either misinformed, indoctrinated or afraid to speak out, or all of the above.
Hence, good quality human rights measurement requires some creative polling. Political scientists Angela Hawken and Matt Leighty have come up with a new strategy, called guerrilla polling. Here’s an example:
Kim Eun Ho is a former police officer from North Korea who defected to the South in 2008. … With the aid of a friend and a smuggled cell phone, he is circumventing North Korea’s leadership to solicit opinions from its citizens.
Kim conducts a nightly public-opinion poll of North Korean residents, the first poll of its kind and illegal in North Korea. Here’s how it works: Kim calls his friend in North Korea on a smuggled cell phone. The friend then uses a North Korean land line to call a subject and presses the cell phone against the handset of the landline phone, allowing Kim to conduct a brief interview.
If the interviewee were discovered by the police, they would almost certainly be punished — perhaps severely. To circumvent the North Korean police, Kim has tailored his questions so that they take about 90 seconds to answer. He tapped phones himself as a North Korean police officer, and he estimates that it takes about two to three minutes for the police to trace a call. (source)
More posts about human rights measurement are here.
- Measuring Human Rights (13): When More Means Less and Vice Versa (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
- “Guerrilla Polling” in Repressive Societies (volokh.com)
- North Korea’s undercover journalists reveal misery of life in dictatorship (telegraph.co.uk)
Needless to say that North Korea and South Korea, since the division of the country in 1948, took very different roads. If we take a look at the two countries now, and see how differently they developed since 1948 – when they started off at roughly the same level – we can see what dictatorship does to a country.
The differences are startling, even if we put aside the horrible famine of 1995-1998 which killed 1 million people, or 4% of the population. (Almost uniquely in history, this famine was as much an urban as a rural famine. Still today, many farmers are forced to eat grass. Even more than usual, this famine was a “government sponsored famine”).
- GDP per person is more than 17 times higher in the North
- International trade is 140 times higher
- Power generation is 16 times higher, whereas the population is only a bit more than double (see satellite image below)
- Life expectancy is more than 10 years higher
Here’s a satellite map showing North and South Korea’s Electricity usage in the evening:
Another, better version:
Some more data on North Korea: