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Human Rights Group Accuses North Korea of Running Massive Slave Labor Camps - 2003-10-23


A U.S. based human rights group says North Korea is holding tens of thousands of people, including many political prisoners, in slave labor camps. Pyongyang has repeatedly denied that there are any political prisoners in North Korea.

The private U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea issued its first-ever report Wednesday, titled The Hidden Gulag, Exposing North Korea's Prison Camps. The study combines testimony from people who escaped from the camps as well as satellite photos of the camps themselves.

The report's author, former United Nations human rights researcher David Hawk, says the findings directly counter North Korean government denials that it is holding any political prisoners. Mr. Hawk said the tens of thousands of Koreans imprisoned in various types of forced labor camps are victims of what the United Nations defines as arbitrary detention. "None of those so imprisoned, and most often for lifetime sentences, have undergone or been subjected to any judicial process. Virtually all of them are political prisoners," he said.

Mr. Hawk says there are high rates of torture at the North Korean camps and never enough food. He adds that pregnant Korean women who escaped to China and then are recaptured are subject to forced abortions or their babies are killed, if the baby's father is suspected of being Chinese.

At other camps, inmates have been convicted of criminal offenses that would not be crimes in non-totalitarian societies. "Examples included in this report are those North Koreans imprisoned and condemned to hard labor under extremely dangerous and harsh conditions for singing South Korean pop songs or for having listened to South Korean radio or met South Koreans while they were in China," said Mr. Hawk.

One survivor whose story was included in the study was 53-year-old Kim Yong, who spent six years in labor camps before escaping to South Korea in 1999. He spoke of brutality beyond his imagination.

Mr. Kim said his wrists still bear the scars of being hung from a bar on the ceiling for 48-hours at a time. He says he also has scars on his head from when he was beaten with a pistol handle.

The report's author, Mr. Hawk, challenged North Korea to invite international representatives to disprove the testimony of former prisoners. Until then, he said, he considers these testimonies to be authoritative and credible.

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