On Sunday North Korea held its first parliamentary elections under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, [BBC profile] successor and son of the late Kim Jong-Il. The elections are held at five-year intervals and are considered more a formality than an actual democratic process, as constituents vote [BBC report] "yes" or "no" for the single, party-approved candidate for their district. The Supreme People's Assembly is considered a "rubber-stamp" parliamentary body, meeting [Al Jazeera report] only a few times per year to give their approval to programs and laws developed by the Worker's Party. The elections are seen by foreign observers as having a twofold purpose, first to consolidate [NYT report] the power of top officials and to elevate supporters to powerful positions, and second to act as a de facto "political census" of the people. Propaganda initiatives strongly encourage all citizens to vote and to do so in favor of the Worker's Party. North Korean officials reported a voter turnout of 99.98 percent.
North Korea is considered one of the most secretive nations on the planet and has a controversial human rights records. In February the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] called [JURIST report] on the international community to take action in North Korea, saying that there were "no longer any excuses for inaction." The statement came two days after the release of a 372 page report by UN human rights investigators calling for the nation to be brought before the ICC, detailing numerous accounts of crimes against humanity, including [JURIST report] "murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, the enforced disappearance of people and knowingly causing starvation." North Korea categorically rejected the report, claiming that it was a fabrication designed to hurt the nation's political leaders. In December Amnesty International released [JURIST report] satellite images confirming an expansion of North Korea's political prison systems, calling upon the country to immediately close the camps and release prisoners. It is unclear the exact number of political prisoners being detained there. UN officials began advocating [JURIST report] an international inquiry in North Korea's political prison system in February 2013.