North Korea Dwarf Village Is Latest Human Rights Abuse

Little people sterilized, forced to live in remote area
North Koreans bow before a statue of Kim Il Sung, the regime's founder. / AP

North Koreans bow before a statue of Kim Il Sung, the regime's founder. / AP

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TOKYO – North Korea’s communist government has created a dwarf village in a remote part of the country where short people it regards as undesirables are prevented from reproducing and forced to fend for themselves within the harsh Stalinist system.

The abuse of North Koreans who have dwarfism, a genetic condition that produces short bodies and disproportionate limbs, is the latest disclosure of widespread human rights abuses within the country. A U.N. commission report a year ago charged the regime with “crimes against humanity.”

Several North Korean defectors disclosed the existence of the village, called Yeonha-Ri, and said it is located in Kimhyongjik County, a border region in northeastern Ryanggang Province. The province is named after North Korea’s founding dictator Kim Il-Sung’s father, Kim Hyong-Jik.

Dwarfs are persecuted by the regime under a policy that combines Korean superstitions about physical deformities manifesting from personal or ancestral sin, and the hardline communist regime’s demand that all citizens must work, according to North Korean defectors.

As part of the anti-dwarf measures, all people under 120 centimeters in height, or just under four feet, have been forced to relocate to the farming village at Yeonha-Ri.

One defector, who disclosed details of the village on condition of anonymity, said the North Korean government originally planned to exterminate the dwarfs as part of a policy of eliminating those within the population with undesirable physical traits. But concerns about international reaction to the population “cleansing” instead resulted in allowing the dwarfs to set up the farming village.

The goal of the separation is to prevent the dwarfs from marrying and reproducing. To that end, they are forced to undergo sterilization.

Also, North Korean dwarfs face a greater risk of starvation because they are not given the same food rations as other North Koreas.

Travel is also restricted under the dubious claim that as little people the dwarfs could be crushed while riding on crowded train cars.

The defector said stories related to the village include reports that during some of North Korea’s frequent famines, women would move in with Yeonha-Ri’s men who had reputations for being resourceful and good providers.

Michael Breen, a Seoul-based specialist on North Korea, said the treatment of the dwarfs is typical of the systematic abuse of human rights in the country.

“It is tempting to see the treatment of little people as evidence of the revolutionary state’s obsession with the purity of the race,” Breen said.

“But when you consider that Kim Il-Sung himself had a goiter the size of a fist on his neck that didn’t appear to disqualify him from leadership, I fear we have to look for other explanations.”

“I think that in this case…the nanny state in its zeal for social engineering is simply expressing the harsh and superstitious culture that it derives from,” Breen said.

Another defector, Ji Seong-Ho, disclosed in December that two defectors revealed the existence of the dwarf village that was part of the regime’s abusive treatment of all disabled persons.

Ji told Britain’s Mail Online that he suffered mistreatment as a disabled person after losing a leg and hand, and that the regime of Kim Jong Un was “humiliated” by its disabled population.

“‘The men were castrated so they would become extinct,” Ji said. “There’s no-one left there by now.”

A United Nations Commission of Inquiry last year reported that the North Korean regime had engaged in systematic and massive violations of basic human rights of its citizens. The report did not mention the forced migration of dwarfs.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee in November approved a resolution calling for the case against North Korea to be referred to the International Criminal Court. The U.N. Security Council has been considering the request.

South Korea’s government is pushing for the criminal court referral while North Korea has mounted its own effort to derail the referral, pressing China and Russia to block it in the world body.

“These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation,” the report said.

“Crimes against humanity are ongoing in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place,” the report said.

North Korea on Friday fired back at critics of the rights abuses. A North Korean official told China’s state-run Global Times newspaper that a recent think tank conference in Washington was part of an “extremely despicable conspiracy” by the United States and South Korea.

The North Korean, identified only as counselor at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, said the two countries “plotted an extremely despicable conspiracy against North Korea using so-called ‘defectors.’”

The diplomat said those “trying to discredit North Korea are bound to fail and will be severely punished.”

North Korea has launched a major international propaganda effort to try and counteract mounting international pressure on the regime in Pyongyang over the human rights abuses.

The measures include the appointment of a North Korean human rights ambassador and the holding of mass demonstrations.

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