North Korea must create a legal framework for the way traders buy and sell basic necessities like food and clothing in order to reduce rights violations in the country, the UN’s human rights body said on May 28th.
About 75% of the North Korean population has relied on the private sector to obtain basic goods since the collapse of the public distribution system – a state rationing network - in the 1990s.
"In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, people face both a failed public distribution system and an insecure informal sector where they are exposed to prosecution and corruption," the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a report, using the country's official name.
The OHCHR document – based on interviews with 214 North Koreans – said Pyongyang had failed to legalise people's efforts to find food and clothing outside the public distribution system, even though it was their only way to secure daily necessities.
The report also accuses officials across North Korea of extorting money from a population struggling to make ends meet, threatening them with prison and prosecution, particularly those working in the informal economy.
"If you just follow instructions coming from the State you starve to death," a female defector from Ryanggang province was quoted as saying in the report.
"They are denied due process and fair trial rights and subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment in detention," the report added.
"Only those willing and able to pay off corrupt State officials and brokers' fees are able to strive towards an adequate standard of living", the report went on, urging the North "to undertake profound legal and institutional reforms".
Pyongyang says it protects human rights and is improving people's standards of living.
According to AFP, the North's Geneva-based diplomatic mission to the UN described the report as "pie in the sky".
"Such reports are nothing more than fabrication... as they are always based on the so-called testimonies of 'defectors' who provide fabricated info to earn their living or are compelled under duress or enticement," it said.