UN human rights experts urge inquiry into North Korean political prison camps

A group of United Nations independent human rights experts today urged an international inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea (DPRK), where hundreds of thousands of prisoners and their families are believed to suffer in the country’s extensive political prison camp system.

“I call on the UN Member States to set up an inquiry into grave, systematic and widespread violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and to recommend ways to ensure accountability for possible crimes against humanity,” the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, said in a news release.

He and the other experts stressed that reports coming from the DPRK are “extremely serious and disturbing” and that the time has come to shine a light of truth on these allegations by appointing a robust independent international inquiry.

In December 2012, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, met with two survivors of the country’s political prison camps – which are believed to be in operation since the 1950s and contain at least 150,000 people – urging the international community to launch an inquiry.

In today’s press release, the experts noted that prisoners do not have access to healthcare and very limited food rations resulting in near starvation. Prisoners are allegedly commonly forced to work seven days a week in laborious industries like mining and farming, and sometimes in dangerous conditions.

“Many prisoners have been declared guilty of political crimes such as expressing anti­socialist sentiments, having unsound ideology, or criticizing the Government,” said El-Hadji Malick Sow, who currently chairs the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. “But all it takes to be sent to the camps is reading a foreign newspaper.”

According to the experts, up to three generations of family members of detainees are sent to the camps on the basis of guilt by association, or yeonjwa je.

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