Indisputably, Syria now maintains one of the worst human rights records in the present day. This article seeks to explore violations of human rights in El Salvador, Somalia and North Korea. To be sure, there are many countries violating these rights and this illustrates only a few. Please refer to our previous article Understanding Syria, to explore Syrian government, human rights violations.
Republic of El Salvador
Having one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies, El Salvador accounts for more than a third of all pregnancies, in the Central American nation, with girls aged 10 to 19. Explaining this problem in an interview, Deputy Health Minister Eduardo Espinoza stated that there is always a component of violence in young pregnancies, either through incest, violence or domestic violence.
Mothers, younger than 16, face more substantial risks in pregnancy, with maternal deaths four times higher than a woman in her early 20s. Struggling with the spread of the Zika virus, El Salvador may introduce a new bill, for terminating a pregnancy if a foetus is infected. This could eliminate the side effects of children born with birth defects and improve the rights of women.
A Woman’s Right to Life
Having a complex relationship with issues surrounding pregnancy, El Salvador often illegally fires pregnant workers and requires some female job applicants to present pregnancy test results. Nevertheless, despite anti-pregnancy policies, the country imposes a total ban on abortion and prevents education on sexual health in schools.
Criminalised in 1998, there are no exceptions to abortion, including rape, incest, foetal abnormalities and risk to a woman’s health or life. Death can often be an only option, unless a woman is willing to face imprisonment. There are even cases of doctors, fearing criminal prosecution, calling the police when a woman arrives in pain. Establishing abortion as illegal in all circumstances, including threatening a woman’s life, is a crime against the human right to life.
The Catholic Church is a powerful figurehead in El Salvador. Supported by the pro-life lobby, the institution influences law and the conservative population. Surpassing even adamant pro-life beliefs, women experiencing miscarriage, obstetric emergencies and still births are at risk of prosecution. Parliamentarian Ricardo Andrés Velásquez Parker, of Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Arena), began lobbying the motion for abortion laws to change from 2-8 year prison sentences, to 50 years. Equivalent to aggravated homicide, or premeditated murder, Velásquez Parker argues that life begins at conception and the sentence for abortion should carry the same sentence.
Between 1998 and 2013, approximately 600 women have been sentenced to up to 40 years imprisonment, after accusations of abortion. Despite suffering miscarriages and foetal deaths, 17 women, later known as ‘Las 17’, received convictions of aggravated homicide. Considering their foetuses viable for a full-term pregnancy, courts condemned them. Despite freeing a handful of the ‘Las 17’ women, there are still 25 women serving these sentences in prison. Often, the women are in danger within a prison, with fellow inmates naming them baby killers and murders. Hiding behind an alias, or nickname, protects the privacy of a woman’s sentence.
Morena Herrera, of the Citizen Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, strives to protect these women and providing them with the ability to get out, and stay out, of prison. Previously, Herrera was a strategist for the guerrilla movement, fighting with Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), opposing the military led government in the civil war. In spite of opposition, harassment, and stigmatisation, by state officials and individuals, the Citizen Group continue their work on women’s rights. Called “unscrupulous” and “unpatriotic traitors”, they have also received death threats.
Changes in Perspective
Grating a pardon, in favour of ‘Guadalupe’, a woman incarcerated on pregnancy-related grounds, El Salvador is beginning to see a change in the attitudes towards abortion. After serving seven years, of a 30-year sentence, due to a miscarriage, resolution came for Guadalupe/ Authorities began recognising judicial errors in the original prosecution. Similarly, Maria Teresa Rivera, who was serving a sentence of 40 years after an obstetric complication, has since been exonerated from court accusations of abortion.
Despite making changes to previous sentences, findings from the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of El Salvador, and United Nations Human Rights council recommendations, did not completely amend the laws of El Salvador. Accepting their need to improve reproductive and sexual rights, El Salvador’s sexual and reproductive services are now a focus, alongside contraception. However, decriminalising abortion, and releasing all women in prison for abortion or miscarriage, brought no changes in policy.
Federal Republic of Somalia
Following the overthrow of President Siad Barre’s military regime, in 1991, anarchy hit Somalia. Despite installing a new, internationally-backed government in 2012, after years of conflict, authorities still face challenges. Accused of being corrupt, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud suspended elections in 2015, citing a lack of security and infrastructure.
In June, the international community reluctantly agreed to extend the mandate of the weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) for another year. After African Union peacekeepers ousted al-Shabaab (a group aligned with Al-Qaeda) from Mogadishu in August, the group responded by launching its most deadly bomb attack on the capital to date in October. Enforcing brutal policies in Sharia law, al-Shabaab flogs or amputates people publicly when guilty of theft or other minor crimes.
Conflict-related abuses include the military, government and al-Shabaab. Restricting relief supplies, many crimes involve destroying medical care and items indispensable to the survival of the civilian population. Denying humanitarian organisations access to Somalia, the U.N. and Non-Governmental Organisation (NGOs) began suspending their activities in the country. Politically motivated killings, by al-Shabaab, target humanitarian NGO employees, U.N. staff, and diplomatic missions, and lead to many civilian deaths.
Freedom of Movement; Education; No One Shall Be Held in Slavery or Servitude.
Recruiting children for labour and as child soldiers remains a problem in Somalia, reaching numbers of 5,000. Commonly, children work in herding, agriculture and in households, from an early age leading on to vending cigarettes and khat. Previous statistics from the U.N., state from 1995 to 2005, 35% of children between five and fourteen were in the work force. After 2005, figures are unavailable.
Despite, Somalia being a member of the UNICEF Convention on the Right of the Child, which prohibits children under the age of 15 from taking part in war, abduction and child recruitment continues. Raiding schools, madrassas and mosques, al-Shabaab frequently recruit children into combat. Living in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), children remain easy targets and in abundance, as almost 1.1 million people are displaced due to civil war. Enticing children with food or money is a simple method of attraction because almost three-quarters of the population lives in poverty and two-thirds of the youth are unemployed.
Roles for children in combat can include: suicide attacks, use as human shields, carrying ammunition, removing injured or dead militants, and even planting roadside bombs or explosive devices. Forced to punish and execute other children, training and indoctrination is vicious. Further treatment consists of inadequate diets, physical punishment and religious training.
Known to incarcerate juveniles, families wanting to discipline their children, can send them to prison and detention centres. Continuing reports claim some families send juveniles, from al-Shabaab-controlled areas, to prison to prevent al-Shabaab from forcibly recruiting them.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
or punishment. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
With very few rights in Somalia, women remain vulnerable. 98% of women have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); a cruel practice, it is degrading, dangerous and equivalent of torture. Reporting on FGM, UNICEF report most women are subjected to infibulation, which not only cuts but sews up the genitalia. Primarily, these acts occur to females between the age of five and fourteen. Technically, the practice is illegal; however, it remains as ‘tradition’ in the entire country.
Prevalent throughout Somalia, Sexual violence carries infrequent punishment for rapists, by the government, and much stigma for those raped. To the other extreme, al-Shabaab sentences men to death for rape. Spousal violence, including rape, carries no punishment at all by the government. Statistics on these issues are impossible to confirm or deny, however NGOs and international organisations consider it pervasive. Vastly accused of rape, the Ugandan and Burundian AMISOM are known to abuse females under the age of 18, including cases of rape while women seek medical assistance or water. The AMISOM often gives females food or money after the crime. Authorities, such as the chair of the African Union Commission, deny all allegations.
Despite denying these events, stories of rape and gang rape are extensive, even among the Criminal Investigation Department. Often investigating their own cases, and told to seek resolution through compensation, women can easily be detained for making ‘false claims’. In order to avoid the stigma of impurity and societal discrimination, survivors often marry perpetrators. Pressures women face, regarding sexual behaviour, is paramount as women can still be stoned to death from accusations of adultery.
Prevented by neither government, nor regional authorities, forced marriage takes place in rural areas with daughters as young as 12. Arranging compulsory marriage between soldiers and young girls, al-Shabaab used marriage as a recruitment tool. Similarly, few women have autonomy in regards to reproductive rights. Limited information and access to contraception means women cannot manage their reproductive health. According to the United Nations, an estimated 1.5 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 had access to a modern method of contraception.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)
Governed by dynastic succession, North Korea is a one-party state. Ruling till his death, in 1994, Kim Il-sung passed on his leadership to son Kim Jong-il. From 2011, till today, Kim Jong-un succeeds his father. Speculating North Korean stability, international bodies cite Kim Jong-un’s political inexperience impairing North Korea’s decisions, on nuclear weapons and diplomatic relations. Named the Supreme People’s Assembly, North Korea’s parliament comprises of no political power. All levels of state and economy suffer from a corruption epidemic. Similarly, North Korea contains no freedom of assembly, with no organisations or associations apart from those created by the state. Unions and organised labour activities are illegal.
Set up by the Human Rights Council (HRC), The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (COI) documented murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion and sexual violence in North Korea. In short, the COI stated the “gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” Unlike Nazi Germany, the international community cannot deny the happenings in North Korea. Informed by the U.N., on an international level, all nations understand the extent of crimes against humanity.
The Right for Freedom of Information
In theory, the constitution provides for freedom of speech, in reality this is non-existent. Justifying repression, Kim Jong-un claims censorship is necessary to stop the virus of capitalism. Withdrawing the right for the freedom of information is a preventive measure, hindering the exposure of human rights violations in North Korea, and to increase isolationism. Fundamentally, North Koreans cannot report to the outside world.
With an extensive network of informers, North Korea monitors nearly all forms of communication. All media and publications are state controlled. Fixed to state channels, televisions and radios are subject to strict supervision and censorship. Similarly, North Korea restricts internet access to a few thousand people with state approval, and removes foreign websites. Punishment for unauthorised information, such as USBs and computer flash drives is severe, including public executions.
Threatening privacy further is person-to-person surveillance. Setting up neighbourhood groups that report on people’s activities, citizens’ radio and television habits are monitored and the threat of an authorised home visit is possible at any time. Those with family members who fled North Korea are subject to heightened surveillance.
Unauthorised Phone Calls
Significantly, authorities seek to track and punish people who make unauthorised calls to people outside of North Korea because it hinders the regime. Having more than 3 million subscribers, North Korea uses the country’s popular domestic mobile phone service that blocks international calls. Illegal trade of mobile phones, and SIM cards, enables North Koreans living near the Chinese border to communicate directly with people outside the country. Some North Koreans use ‘brokers’, paying someone else who owns a phone to set up a call for them. An expensive practice, brokers can demand a 30% commission on $1000 cash transfer and this carries a huge risk as North Korea can often intercept money transfers. Importing modern surveillance and detection devices, and using signal jammers near the Chinese border, North Korea is increasing its efforts to block contact with the outside world, in the digital age.
Kwanliso, Political Prisoner Camps
Beginning in the 1950s, North Korean prison camps are a result of the North and South Korean war. 2,800,000 died during North Korea’s invasion of the South. The U.N was responsible for establishing a ceasefire, on July 27th, 1953, primarily led by the U.S. To this day, 150,000-200,000 political prisoners live in confinement in camps operated by North Korea’s National Security agency, having no access to the outside world. Denying the prison camps even exist, North Korea’s camps look like remote villages on satellite photographs.
Consequences of censorship and repression mean little is known about the kwanliso or ‘total control camps’. However, addressing accountability for crimes against humanity, the U.N.’s Commission on Human Rights in North Korea began gathering evidence for almost a year in 2013. Comparable to Russian Gulags, there is evidence of: torture, forced labour, executions, arbitrary imprisonment, deliberate starvation, forced abortion and rape. In the absence of trials, prisoners cannot even ask their crime and often the conclusion of imprisonment is death. Confirming what international organisations suspected, testament of previous prisoners calls attention to the true horrors of the camps. Eventually writing to Kim Jong-un personally, was Michael Kirby, the chair of the panel set up by the U.N. commission. He wrote to inform Kim Jong-Un about facing the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
Guilt by Association
With political prisoners being punished by three generations, families are guilty by association. Creating a culture of fear, it is difficult opposing a regime if children and relatives face death in prison camps. Sent to prison camp 18 at 13 years of age, Kim Hye-sook, was guilty by association of her grandfather who fled to South Korea. Imprisoned for 28 years, she later drew the whole camp for international organisations for them to compare to satellite photos.
A public execution is a common sight for North Koreans and is an effective method of control. Crying at a friend or family member’s execution, within a prison camp, can mean immediate arrest and execution. Acceptable to shoot-to-kill prisoners attempting escape, the regime teaches guards that prisoners are traitors to the party, as well as enemies of the people. Showing sympathy for prisoners would mean guards would suffer punishment, as well as their parents.
Somalia 2015 Human Rights Report. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.
Freedom House Report, Worst of the Worst 2012: The World’s Most Repressive Societies. www.freedomhouse.org
 El Salvador 2015 Human Rights Report. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.