The U.S. State Department confirmed Thursday that North Korea's human rights record remains "deplorable" under an "absolute" dictatorship by reclusive leader Kim Jong-il. The department's 2009 Human Rights Report added, "The government subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives."
The report comes after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton granted Lee Ae-ran, a North Korean defector, the Award for International Women of Courage in an apparent effort to draw international attention to North Korea's dire human rights situation. Lee, a professor of nutrition and culinary arts at Kyungin Women's College in South Korea, was among 10 prize recipients Wednesday.
"She was a witness to tyranny at a very early age," Clinton said. "She defected to South Korea and transformed her life, where she has been a force for promoting human rights of the North Korean refugee community."
"After a harrowing escape to South Korea, she became a tireless advocate for North Korean refugees and the first defector to run for Korea's national assembly."
Speaking to reporters on the release of the report, Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, described North Korea as "an incredibly closed society," noting "a total intolerance of dissent; lots of prisoners in very poor conditions; very little room for people to even get information."
"It's probably one of the most closed societies in the world," he said.