“The United Nations’ human rights chief declared recently that the time had come for a ‘long overdue’ investigation into what she called unparalleled rights abuses in North Korea. The probe, unprecedented in scope, could help establish whether the North’s leaders are committing crimes against humanity,” the Washington Post reports:
Navi Pillay’s January proposal has already drawn support from the United States. But the decision has proved sensitive in South Korea, where leaders remain divided over whether to confront the North or try to somehow reduce tensions with it, even after Pyongyang last week detonated an underground nuclear device…. Washington’s decision to support the effort could prove just as important, prompting other nations, “especially those on the fence, to come forward in support of the initiative,” said Roberta Cohen, co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
It remains a crime in the North to criticize the government, watch a South Korean television show or leave dust on founder Kim Il Sung’s portrait. Those found guilty of crimes that Pyongyang considers grave are sent, often along with their parents and children, to prison camps in isolated mountain areas where they almost always stay for life.
For example, the Daily NK news website reported that North Koreans who failed to mourn the regime’s former dictator with sufficient emotional intensity were severely punished.
Citing a North Korean source, Daily NK reported that “the authorities are handing down at least six months in a labor-training camp to anybody who didn’t participate in the organized gatherings during the mourning period, or who did participate but didn’t cry and didn’t seem genuine.”
One advocate, An Myeong-chul, secretary general of the Free the NK Gulag group, said he is compiling documents about a few individuals in the North’s prison camps, based on information from relatives who have escaped to the South. The documents detail the names of those in the camps, when they were taken and by whom.
An filled out one document of his own, giving information about his mother and two siblings, who were sent to a gulag in 1994, he said, paying for the crimes of his father, who had been stealing rice and then committed suicide. An believes that his family members are still in a camp, but he isn’t sure. He calls the commission of inquiry a “necessity.”
“If Park Geun-hye wants to open dialogue with North Korea, accepting the COI might give the North an excuse to get upset,” he said. “But South Korea should be aware: There are prisoners in there, and there are survivors here.”
The new generation of defectors has been described as a “small miracle” for raising hopes for human rights in North Korea. The defectors act as a “bridge population” between the two Koreas, said Carl Gershman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Endowment for Democracy.
Daily NK is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.