North Korean control even beyond its prison camps

When Amnesty International officials scrutinized new satellite imagery of a notorious North Korean gulag, what caught their attention was not what was happening inside the fence but outside it.

A network of what appeared to be guard posts enclosing a valley and a small town indicated not an expansion of the sprawling Camp 14, as originally thought, but authorities’ control of those living beyond the camp’s perimeter. (The best-selling book “Escape from Camp 14” by author Blaine Harden has shed light onto one corner of the gulag.)

Amnesty said it commissioned satellite images and analysis of the area. It found that North Korea has constructed a 12.5-mile perimeter, much of it on steep terrain, next to the camp to encircle a valley that contains mines, orchards and a small town. While the perimeter is marked by posts and not a fence, there is controlled access and some 20 guard towers that are more concentrated near the town than the camp.

“What’s most worrisome is that it seems to expand the scope of control beyond the formal boundaries of the prison camp,” said Frank Jannuzi , deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA. The rights group isn’t sure why that’s happening but says it’s another good reason to step up scrutiny of human rights conditions in the secretive nation, with its unparalleled restrictions on citizenry and its vast gulag.

Amnesty is pushing for member states next week at the U.N. Human Rights Council to support an independent commission of inquiry into systematic abuses and crimes against humanity in North Korea. That would add international pressure on Pyongyang, which was hit Thursday with its latest round of U.N. sanctions.

A U.N. special rapporteur on human rights is due to present a report on North Korea to the council in Geneva on Monday. Japan, Europe, the U.S. and South Korea have all indicated support for some kind of enhanced inquiry mechanism, and only half of the 47 member states on the council will need to vote in favor for it to be established.

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  1. Pertaining to an independent commission of inquiry into systematic abuses and crimes against humanity in North Korea, North Korea condemned an investigation into its alleged human rights abuses, and denounced a U.N. report as “faked material … invented by the hostile forces, defectors and other rabbles”.

    “It is nothing more than an instrument of political plot aimed at sabotaging our socialist system by defaming the dignified image of the DPRK and creating an atmosphere of international pressure under the pretext of ‘human rights protection’,” North Korea’s Ambassador So Se Pyong told the Council.

    The likely establishment of a U.N. investigation follows a report by an independent expert, Indonesian lawyer Marzuki Darusman, identifying human rights violations including kidnapping of foreign nationals, torture, and a gulag system thought to hold up to 200,000 prisoners.

    U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay told Reuters there was a need for more in-depth investigation and she was disturbed that more attention was paid to Pyongyang’s nuclear program than the deteriorating human rights situation, which she called “the worst in the whole world”.

    Darusman said the situation had worsened since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took over after his father’s death in December 2011.

    Robert King, U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, said 2,600 defecting North Koreans were able to reach South Korea in 2011, but the number fell by 43 percent last year, and preliminary data showed “further tightening” in 2013.

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