The number of political prisoners in North Korea is significantly lower than previously thought, according to South Korea’s latest white paper on the Stalinist country’s human rights situation.
The Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), South Korea’s state-run research institute, estimates the number of political prisoners in the North to be somewhere between 80,000 and 120,000. That is a drastic drop from previous estimates of 150,000 to 200,000.
Based on in-depth interviews of some 240 North Korean defectors, the white paper noted that one of the six prison camps in the North, Camp 22 in North Hamgyeong Province, was shut down in May 2012. In addition, Camp 18 in South Pyongan Province downsized from holding some 190,000 prisoners to around 4,000 after being relocated to North Pyongan Province.
The institute indicated, however, that the shrinking number of prison camps and prisoners is due to rise in the death toll from forced labor and rules that ban childbirth inside the camps, not because of shift in Pyongyang’s stance.
The white paper said public executions of those charged with drug-related crimes increased in 2012 and the following year. The North Korean government reformed its criminal codes two years ago and stipulated those involved in drug trafficking and smuggling would face the death penalty.
The report comes as the special U.N. investigator for human rights in North Korea said Thursday that the world body must do more to hold Pyongyang accountable for abuses of its own citizens. Marzuki Darusman said the U.N. Security Council is the only body that can refer perpetrators to the International Criminal Court.