North Korea’s recent strides towards building nuclear weapons has brought the hermit nation into sharp international focus.
The state’s young dictator, Kim Jong-un, was photographed earlier this month relishing his nation’s progress developing a hydrogen bomb at a lavish celebration, even as the continued tests brought new United Nations sanctions and an increasing threat of war.
The reclusive state is seen as one of the last Stalinist regimes and is ideologically committed to cutting itself off from the international community in pursuit of its doctrine of national self reliance.
It has been ruled by the Kim dynasty since 1948 after the Soviet Union took control of the north of the Korean peninsula from Japan after the Second World War, and then installed Un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, in power.
The intervening decades have seen North Korea morph into an isolated and paranoid nation that tightly controls what the outside world sees. As such, reports on life inside the secretive nation are difficult to independently verify.
Yet behind the displays of military pomp lies an impoverished state, which thousands of desperate refugees attempt to flee every year.
Those defectors describe a nation where most people struggle for basics such as food and medicine and face brutal reprisals for breaking the regime’s draconian laws.
Three generations rule
One of the country’s most brutal laws is the ‘three generations of punishment’ rule. If one person is convicted of a serious crime and sent to a prison camp their immediate family can also be sent with them. Then the next two generations born in the camps can also remain there. The edict was introduced in 1972 by Kim Il-sung and said up to three generations had to be punished to wipe out the ‘seed’ of class enemies.
Crimes for which North Koreans can find themselves sent to a prison camp can allegedly include failure to wipe dust off portraits of Kim Il-sung and having contact with South Koreans. Conditions in the country’s prison and labour camps are notoriously harsh. Survivors have described prisoners becoming stunted and deformed from carrying out hard labour for 12 hours a…