“The first panel of experts from the United Nations assigned to investigate accusations of human rights abuses in North Korea urged the government on Tuesday to allow them to visit the country, even as the North called their work slanderous,” the New York Times reports:
The United Nations appeal, although ignored by the North in recent weeks, was repeated on Tuesday, as the three-member Commission of Inquiry finished five days of public hearings in the South Korean capital, Seoul, during which defectors from North Korea, many of them survivors of its labor or political prisoner camps, have provided harrowing accounts of hunger, torture, public executions and forced abortions there.
The number of inmates in North Korean political prisoner camps, once estimated at 150,000 to 200,000, is believed to have decreased to 80,000 to 120,000 in five camps, according to the 2013 white paper on North Korean human rights prepared by the government-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
It said the North had recently dismantled one camp, releasing many inmates and relocating the others to a new, smaller camp. North Korea also closed another camp near the border with China, the South Korean paper said, relocating its inmates to other facilities.
“An accounting of the fate and whereabouts of all of North Korea’s political prisoners, including those missing and those who have died in detention should be of highest priority to the UN commission of inquiry and the entire international community,” said Roberta Cohen, co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, which today released a new report on the country’s gulag. “International arrangements should be negotiated for the entry of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) into the camps,” she said.
The report, North Korea’s Hidden Gulag: Interpreting Reports of Changes in the Prison Camps, confirms the closure of two of North Korea’s known six political penal labor colonies, but HRNK researcher David Hawk concludes that one of the camps closed simply because prisoners had been dying, or had disappeared, at an “extremely high” rate.
The report, which relies on satellite imagery and testimony from former camp prisoners and guards, focuses on Camp 22, a political prison camp in Hoeryong, near the northeast border with China.
In Camp 22, one of the two closed camps, the prison population is said to have dwindled dramatically prior to closure in 2012-2013 from 30,000 to between 3,000 and 8,000, reportedly due to severe food shortages inside the camps. Some prisoners were likely transferred to another prison, Camp 16, said Hawk, but his research still “leaves several thousand former prisoners unaccounted for.”
“If even remotely accurate, this is an atrocity requiring much closer investigation,” he concludes.
Through this vast system of unlawful imprisonment, the North Korean regime isolates, banishes, punishes and executes those suspected of being disloyal to the regime, says HRNK. They are deemed “wrong-thinkers,” “wrong-doers,” or those who have acquired “wrong-knowledge” or have engaged in “wrong-associations.”
Up to 130,000 are known to be held in the kwan-li-so penal labor colonies where they are relentlessly subjected to malnutrition, forced labor, and to other cruel and unusual punishment. Thousands upon thousands more are forcibly held in other detention facilities. North Korea denies access to the camps to outsiders, whether human rights investigators, scholars, or international media and severely restricts the circulation of information across its borders.
“Through satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts, HRNK will continue to monitor the status of North Korea’s political prison camps, as it is essential to ensure that the North Korean regime not be allowed to erase evidence of atrocities or eliminate the surviving prisoners,” said Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director.