Seoul Breaks Silence on N.Korea's Human Rights Abuses

      January 22, 2010 12:56

      South Korea has issued its first report on human rights abuses committed in North Korea's political prison camps. The report by the National Human Rights Commission shows the inhumanity of North Korea's political prison camps, including widespread torture and public executions. Most of the people incarcerated in the North's political prison camps were caught trying to escape to South Korea or for minor political infractions, such as failing to hang up a picture of leader Kim Jong-il. None of them were arrested with a warrant or received a fair trial. The families of inmates have also been imprisoned according to a guilty-by-association system.

      The report is South Korea's first assessment of human rights abuses in North Korea and marks a significant shift in the South's approach toward the North. The NHRC plans to translate the report into English and deliver it to the UN Commission on Human Rights and other international organizations to spread awareness of the atrocities being committed in North Korea.

      A protestor in Seoul calls for the release of Robert Park, an evangelical activist who crossed the frozen border river into North Korea.

      ◆ Abuse of Human Rights

      Human rights disappear the moment a person steps inside a concentration camp. Some prison camps do not even allow inmates to marry other inmates. "If an inmate does a good job spying or works hard, he or she is allowed to marry, but only on three to four special days of the year," said a North Korean defector. Even if inmates marry and have children, the camps have no childcare facilities and in some cases babies were found dead while their mothers went out to work. The camps do not provide clothing and shoes to the inmates, only shelter and food. Household items and sanitary pads are unavailable, and this makes living conditions extremely difficult especially for women. Women are often summoned by intelligence officers to their rooms and sexually assaulted there or at the clothes and food products factories in the camps, according to testimony from defectors.

      Inmates who complain about conditions spend between a month to a year at detention centers within the camps. Inmates were especially afraid of the extended torture and physical assaults that awaited them there, which often left prisoners dead. Attempts to escape led to the harshest punishments, including execution by firing squad or hanging. When a pregnant inmate suddenly disappears, she was probably secretly executed, say North Koreans who had survived the camps. "I think there were between 20 to 30 public executions at the camps. They would shoot you for 'refusing to convert,'" said one former inmate. Another former inmate said the body of a pregnant woman was discovered with a shovel embedded in her body in 1992, and the location of secret executions is a canyon around 500 m from the prison.

      ◆ Bribing Their Way Out of Camps

      North Korean defectors who were caught in China are subject to terrible assaults and torture. Some female defectors said prison officials used their hands to check whether women were hiding money in their orifices. After the number of defections increased in 2006, there were accounts of inmates bribing prison officials to get lighter sentences or even gain freedom. "Between 60 to 70 percent of defectors caught while heading to South Korea were sent directly to political prisons or summarily executed, while those who were freed had used bribes," said one defector.

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