The Times of Tanzania
Eastern Africa News Network, Breaking News Tanzania

Reports unveil why North Korean nuclear scientists are ‘slaves’ of the regime’s weapons program

NORTH Korean scientists and engineers working on developing weapons of mass destruction should be considered victims of human rights violations, not just beneficiaries of the regime’s nuclear ambitions, according to a new report.

A study conducted has found out that scientists and engineers face unsafe conditions that violate human rights and are not just privileged elite.

Titled “Slaves of the Bomb,” the report by the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) focuses on how North Korea violates the rights of its nuclear scientists; a demographic generally believed to hold a privileged status in the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK).

But DPRK nuclear scientists face a range of human rights violations, including forced labor, unsafe working conditions and strict surveillance, according to the report published on Friday.

Based on historical research and a handful of interviews with defectors, the report states that the lives of North Korea’s nuclear scientists and engineers are “characterized by a denial of human rights under the ruling Kim regime.”

“North Korea’s scientists and engineers are forced to work on the nuclear weapons program regardless of their own personal interests, preferences or aspirations.”

“They do not have the freedom to choose their occupations. As such, these individuals may be described as ‘modern-day slaves’ for the Kim regime’s nuclear weapons program,” the HRNK report states.

The report also highlights inadequate safety measures and workers’ potential exposure to hazardous conditions without proper protection.

“Hazardous working conditions at nuclear facilities and lack of safety equipment likely exacerbate the physical effects of radiation exposure for scientists and engineers, unquestionably increasing the likelihood of illness and even early death.”

After testing defectors who lived near a DPRK nuclear test site, Seoul’s Ministry of Unification and the Korea Institute of Radiological and Medical Sciences (KIRAMS) found that 17 out of 80 defectors screened for radiation exposure showed cumulative exposure doses exceeding the minimum detectable limit in stable chromosomal abnormality tests.

However, the KIRAMS report also emphasized that there is no proven link between North Korea’s six nuclear tests and defectors’ chromosomal abnormalities.

According to North Korean state media, Kim Jong-Un has rewarded nuclear and missile scientists with an array of privileges and benefits, such as offering them rare newly built housing at prime locations in Pyongyang. Among other neighborhoods, Mirae Scientists Street was built specifically for these scientists.

But Hyun-seung Lee, a defector and human rights advocate, told NK News that because of “the assumption that they receive better treatment than the general public, it’s possible that North Korean nuclear scientists and engineers have been overlooked in human rights discussions.”

Scientists’ dissenting opinions or those who fail to follow orders can face brutal punishment.

According to Lee, repercussions not only affect the individual scientist, but also for their family members.’

“Scientists and engineers cannot hold patents on their developments in science and technology. The compensation for their engineering services is extremely meager — generally limited to food rations and housing,” he said.

“In short, many North Korean nuclear scientists receive little or no financial reward for their research and development. Their rights are severely restricted, and they have no means to protest or demand better conditions.”

North Korea last conducted a nuclear test in 2017.

However, analysis of satellite imagery by NK Pro in March found that North Korea has started to expand a suspected nuclear facility near Pyongyang after leader Kim Jong-Un called for increasing nuclear weapon production last year.

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