On December 1st, 2020, TRACE, a globally recognized anti-bribery business, updated their annual Bribery Risk Index, indicating that North Korea again has topped their risk chart. North Korea has been in the top 5 most at risk state for bribery and corruption for over a decade, calling attention to the state of the regime.
In 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner released a statement regarding the issue of corruption and repression in North Korea. In their report, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, stated that “The rights to food, health, shelter, work, freedom of movement and liberty are universal and inalienable, but in North Korea they depend primarily on the ability of individuals to bribe state officials.”
Since North Korea’s economic collapse in the 1990’s, people have not been able to survive by only following the states rules and regulations. In order to gain access to necessary tools of survival, therefore sidestepping the government and participating in under the table work has become unavoidable. However, if people try to participate in rudimentary market activity in any way, they are subject to punishment or imprisonment. People usually face extreme conditions in these prisions, not limited to torture. Because of this, North Korean citizens are faced with a difficult decision; working in illegal markets to support their family, or follow the law and starve to death.
The only way to avoid each fate is to bribe state officials. The constant threat of severe punishment gives State officials the power to demand ridiculous bribes from those who have broken the law. By bribing these officials, it is possible to avoid arrest, or at least get placed in higher quality prisons.
It is no surprise that North Korea has once again been placed in the most corrupt category of the Bribery Risk Index. To further understand the human rights abuses taking place, it is important to understand why this bribery is happening, and who it is being performed by. Many defectors have stated that they have bribed, or have witnessed bribery before, whether it is between State officials or even teachers. It is deeply rooted in the culture of the North Korean regime. It proves that North Korea is failing to meet the needs and demands of its people.
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