Korea, Democratic People's Republic of

Overview of SDG progress

Despite their reputation as the Hermit Kingdom, the DPRK has engaged in numerous areas relating to the SDGs, and has even made progress on quite a few goals, owing to international cooperation and sound policy initiatives. However, there are still many areas in which progress has been slow or nonexistent, particularly in goals related to gender equality (SDG 6) and application of the law (SDG 16). The COVID-19 pandemic has had major negative effects on the DPRK’s progress, cutting off almost all access in and out of the country due to fears of spread of the virus. This severing of cooperation with the outside has inhibited further progress in many areas, and has even reversed progress in some particularly related SDG 17. Despite these setbacks, North Korea has the potential to achieve the goals relating to the environment and climate, largely due to concentrated action in those fields.

National planning, implementation and budget commitments

The DPRK government has laid out policies and national plans in numerous areas for implementation of SDG-related activity, and has participated in international events related to progress on the SDGs, particularly the Northeast Asian Multi-stakeholder Forum in Vladivostok in 2019. However, the DPRK government does not publicize their national budget, making it difficult to assess how funding has been allocated to projects related to achieving the goals, as well as if proclaimed policies and plans are actually being implemented around the country. Additionally, the DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed and co-signed ‘The UN Strategic Framework 2017–2021’ with the UN Country Team that highlighted its priorities for SDG implementation through humanitarian and development projects. More information here and here.

Progress since last VNR

The DPRK has not delivered a previous VNR, but does maintain a Strategic Framework Agreement with the UN for 2017-2021 that supports many of the SDGs, particularly when it comes to food and nutrition.

Key communities who face being left behind

The DPRK government maintains a strict social classification system, called songbun, where citizens are organized according to their perceived loyalty to the DPRK government. The system is classified into 3 major groups, among them over 50 sub-groups into which citizens are organized. The three major classes, core, wavering, and hostile, often have consequential effects on citizens’ ability to achieve economic success, access to higher education, and even where they are allowed to live. The songbun system also has indirect effects on family members as well, where a relative’s songbun is applied to 3 generations of the family. The songbun system amply demonstrates state discrimination by caste, work, and descent. Additionally, as a nominally socialist state, religion is heavily restricted by the state. Religious groups and those who are discovered to be practicing religion of any kind often receive punishment ranging from time in a labor camp to capital punishment. Further, the DPRK is a largely patriarchal society, despite government policy indicating universal equality between genders. The reality is that North Korean women are still largely expected to become homemakers, with little action by the government to change the status quo, a stark example of discrimination against women & girls. Finally, though a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the DPRK still fails to provide the full breadth of rights to those with disabilities, discriminating against persons with disabilities particularly when it comes to freedom of movement and residence, falling short of their legal obligations under the CRPD. Securing data regarding these vulnerable groups is unavailable through official means, and much of the data therefore comes from defectors who have left North Korea to settle elsewhere. Leaving North Korea without permission is considered a grave offense as well, and those who are repatriated to North Korea often face severe punishment from DPRK authorities.

How have you engaged across communities?

The work of the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights collects much of its data through surveys and in-depth interviews with North Korean defectors that have come to resettle in South Korea. Since the DPRK government does not release data regarding vulnerable groups, and independent civil society is not given the freedom to assess the status of many vulnerable groups, much of the information regarding vulnerable groups is gathered by international organizations who are allowed to conduct work in the country. However, access to certain areas of the country remain highly restricted, creating blind spots in information about the country.

Overview of climate change

The DPRK continues to experience severe natural disasters, both as a result of poor past environmental policy and climate change. The DPRK has been very active in the international community when it comes to climate action, participating in many multilateral forums, including the Paris Agreement. Due to the state of the economy, the DPRK is not a major emissions producer, however, most policies related to climate change have been geared toward adaptation as opposed to mitigation. Although the DPRK continues to pursue renewable energy sources, particularly due to a lack of energy imports due to sanctions as well as self-imposed isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their emissions output when compared with economic activity makes them a relatively large producer of emissions, despite low absolute emission amounts.

Civil society priorities

One of the most ardent demands of international civil society has been freedom of access to perform their work. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations were often restricted in which provinces they were allowed to work, even restricted whom organizations were able to speak to. This lack of access makes assessing the needs of the North Korean people in a variety of areas extremely difficult, leading to skewed and incomplete data. The government monopolization of data and access creates an environment in which the reliability of data is met with skepticism.

Civil society engagement

The DPRK government is notoriously private regarding official government figures. Our organization has not had contact with any relevant ministries regarding progress made on the SDGs due to the DPRK government’s lack of cooperation with human rights organizations and the government tendency to not release governmental statistics. In addition, external organizations have regularly been barred entry in order to verify evidence and data, not only as the civil society level, but also at the international governmental level.

Public awareness

Materials for the 2030 Agenda have been translated into Korean for local consumption, but the DPRK government has not made education explicitly about the SDGs a priority. As a result, local governments are not actively engaged in carrying out policy initiatives with the SDGs in mind, but largely as a result of direction from the top of the DPRK government. Without a domestic independent civil society community, non-governmental work on the SDGs is scarce, if not non-existent.  

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