The report issued by UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea is staggering in its breadth and detail, including ample reference to North Korean prison camps. The adjacent map details locations of the prison system throughout the country. (Click on map to enlarge)
The Economist estimates between 80,000 and 120,000 people are imprisoned in these camps, and notes that they are usually members of one of three groups:
- people trying to flee the country,
- Christians and those promoting other “subversive” beliefs, or
- political prisoners.
The UN report is written by a three-member UN panel headed by Michael Kirby, an Australian former judge, and it is extraordinary in the fierceness of its condemnation. Mr. Kirby told journalists North Korea was comparable to “Nazi Germany,” and the report itself urges the UN to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for prosecution for war crimes. In a letter sent directly to Kim Jong Un, the North’s dictator, the commission warned that he could be held accountable for crimes against humanity.
For all its might, though, the Commission of Inquiry may not have much teeth. China, as a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council, can veto any referral to the ICC. And China certainly has no reason to call attention to human rights abuses. As The Economist noted, Beijing has blood on its hands, too:
“Equally striking is the [report’s] indictment directed by the COI at China. Chinese leaders refused to let the commission visit its border provinces with North Korea and have opposed the commission’s inquiry from the start. They too received a critical letter from the commission, suggesting that they are ‘aiding and abetting crimes against humanity’. Refugees are routinely rounded up inside China and returned to North Korea, often to face imprisonment, torture and even execution.”
A 36-page summary of the 400-page report can be found here.