Will family baton change, change North Korea?

It’s taken a while, but tomorrow could signal the start of change in the secretive state of North Korea.

Tomorrow, the ruling Workers’ Party are expected to anoint Kim Jong-un as the country’s new leader. The 27-year-old will replace his father Kim Jong-il.

At present it doesn’t really take a seasoned globe watcher to realise that Amnesty International has got a number of concerns with North Korea – such is the ruling party’s global notoriety.

Ever since Kim Jong-il took power after his father’s death in 1994, the country has taken several steps back in terms of human rights.

Freedom of expression and association are now almost non-existent.

Thousands of people who are deemed to oppose the state are being held in detention camps, forced into hard labour for 12 hours a day. They include hundreds sentenced purely through ‘guilt by association’.

More than a third of the population are suffering food shortages and the healthcare system is in terminal decline. Major surgeries are routinely undertaken without anaesthesia. Needles are not sterilised, and diseases like tuberculosis are making a comeback – all revealed in an Amnesty report earlier this year.

Meanwhile, journalists put their lives in their own hands if they try and report from the country, as Amnesty have mentioned in the past, and the Independent’s David McNeill and The Times’ Richard Lloyd-Parry discovered at their own cost this week.

Now whether, Kim Jong-un is going to improve the situation is open to debate. We don’t know much about him – apart from he studied in Switzerland and his favourite song, according to the Guardian, is Brother Louie, by the German group Modern Talking – but he can’t be much worse. Can he?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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