Even if you’ve just skimmed some headlines or scrolled your feeds, you’d be aware that a major political event occurred this week. In a historic step for international diplomacy, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump signed a summit agreement in Singapore.
But as the leaders shook hands, as Trump showed off his armoured vehicle to his “honourable” counterpart and crowed to global media about getting the closed off country to the negotiating table, one thing was ignored:
The enigmatic man waving at the cameras, smiling for selfies with Singaporean officials, is among the world’s most deadly despots.
While “new relations” between the two countries were signed off, along with a commitment to “work toward” the denuclearisation of North Korea, it seems Trump chose not to raise the country’s atrocious human rights record. (One step at a time, it seems…)
According to a 2014 report by a United Nations commission of inquiry, that record includes multiple crimes against humanity and "systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations", the gravity, scale and nature of which are unparalleled in the contemporary world.
These are just a snapshot of the atrocities they were talking about.
Deadly labour camps and political prisons.
North Korea operates a system of gulag-style prisons, re-education facilities and forced-labour camps in which hundreds of thousands have perished over the past five decades.
In the 2014 UN report, it was estimated that up to 120,000 inmates were being held in the country’s four major political prisons. These men and women have been deemed enemies of the state and are generally sentenced without trial. Many are even imprisoned along with several members of their family, as a brutal form of collective punishment.
North Korean officials deny these facilities exist, yet a 2017 report by top international jurists concluded that not only is this prison system real "beyond any doubt", but 10 of the 11 internationally recognised crimes against humanity have been committed within it.
They heard evidence from former inmates and state defectors of "horrific" practices. Among them, The Guardian reported, claims that "starving prisoners are regularly executed when caught scavenging for food; abortions being performed by injecting motor oil into the wombs of pregnant women, according to a former North Korean army nurse; and firing squad executions of prisoners who attempt to escape."
Executions and assassinations.
One of Kim Jong-un's tactics for consolidating his power since his father's death in 2011 has been to eliminate those in his way.
According to South Korea's Institute for National Security Strategy, the 34-year-old has ordered the executions of at least 340 people. Among them, his uncle - the country’s second-most powerful official - Jang Song-thaek who was convicted of treason in 2013. Mr Jang was executed with antiaircraft machine guns, before his body was incinerated with flamethrowers, The New York Times reported.
He has also been accused of orchestrating the assassination of his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in a Malaysian airport in 2017, using a deadly nerve agent.
Indoctrination and isolation.
As well as being unable to leave the country, North Koreans are subjected - as the UN report described it - “an all-encompassing indoctrination machine that takes root from childhood to propagate an official personality cult and to manufacture absolute obedience” to the Supreme Leader.
According to the commission, residents are also fed persistent propaganda designed to “incite nationalistic hatred toward official enemies” including the United States and Japan.
Deliberate starvation of his own citizens.
It's believed that between two million to three million people died during a famine in North Korea in the 1990s. And in 2014, the UN commission found that "laws and policies that violate the right to adequate food and freedom from hunger remain in place".
Just this week a North Korean defector who became a US citizen in 2013 told CBS that as a child growing up in autocratic state she ate an average of one meal a week. That meal was usually rice or dried fish, but occasionally she and her relatives would have to resort to catching and eating baby mice.
"My grandmother, she passed away by starvation. My two younger brothers died by starvation," Grace Jo said. "Not only my family died -- there are hundreds of families they lost their family members."