“Ironically, many of the women who are at the centre of the economic opening that Kim says he cares about are the most at risk,” Roth said.
“Pervasive” social stigma meant many victims never discuss abuse, the group said.
“I was ashamed and scared,” one woman who said she was raped told HRW investigators. “Everybody would have blamed me.”
The Korea Future Initiative rights group said of North Korea in a March report that “a thinly disguised misogyny pervades all that the government touches, allowing perpetrators to find shelter in its institutions and society’s patriarchal conventions”.
As South Korea and the US focus on diplomacy with North Korea, rights and defector groups in the South have said they are struggling to raise money and are facing pressure to avoid criticism of North Korea.
UN investigators have reported the use of political prison camps, starvation and executions in North Korea, saying security chiefs and possibly even leader Kim himself should face international justice.
Up to 120,000 people are held in political prison camps, the top UN North Korea rights official reported last year.