In the late 1950s the regime began dividing society into three classes: “core,” “wavering,” and “hostile.” Security ratings were assigned to individuals; according to some estimates, nearly half of the population was designated as either “wavering” or “hostile.”
Loyalty ratings determined access to employment, higher education, place of residence, medical facilities, and certain stores. They also affected the severity of punishment in the case of legal infractions.
Citizens with relatives who fled to the ROK at the time of the Korean War were classified as part of the “hostile class.” Between 20 and 30 percent of the population was considered potentially hostile. Members of this class were subject to discrimination, although defectors reported their treatment had improved in recent years.
Indirect evidence in recent years–for example, favorable portrayals of persons with bad class backgrounds who were hard workers–suggested that the regime wished to moderate its stance. Economic reforms may also have eroded rigid loyalty‑based class divisions to some extent, although growing economic disparities have also resulted from price and wage reforms. In his August report, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea stated that “while this practice may have been abolished in law, it seems to persist and is implied by the testimonies of those who leave the country in search of refuge elsewhere.”
-- Excerpt of latest State Department’s Human Rights report, country section on North Korea