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UN Commission: 'Gross Human Rights Violations' Taking Place in N. Korea

  • Margaret Besheer

FILE - Michael Kirby, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, gestures during a news conference after delivering his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Sept. 17, 2013.

FILE - Michael Kirby, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, gestures during a news conference after delivering his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Sept. 17, 2013.

The head of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea says evidence collected so far points to apparently “large-scale patterns of systematic and gross human rights violations” in that country. Commission Chairman Michael Kirby said testimony from witnesses and survivors was so shocking that it moved commission members to tears.

Torture, sexual violence, denial of food, arbitrary detention, abduction of foreigners, the return of refugees to certain imprisonment - these are just some of the grave human rights abuses that Commission members and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea detailed Tuesday at the United Nations.

Kirby, an Australian judge with 35 years of experience, said testimony was so distressing members were sometimes moved to tears.

“Some testimony has been extremely distressing; testimony concerning the detention facilities, the lack of proper food in them, the fact that people are in the detention facilities who have committed no offense and no crime, according to their testimony, but who are simply there because of the notion of inter-generational guilt which is a feature of the system in North Korea,” said Kirby.

Kirby also said the commission has obtained satellite images that show at least four political prison camps that remain fully operational. He said a fifth camp appears to have been significantly scaled-down, while another camp was closed. He said the commission wants to know what happened to the prisoners in these two camps.

Kirby said the commission, which was mandated by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, has received good cooperation from a number of states, but not North Korea.

Commissioners conducted more than 200 interviews with victims, witnesses and experts during visits to a number of nations, including South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Britain. Later this week, public hearings will be held in Washington, D.C.

The Commissioners said the treatment of women in North Korea is a serious problem. Commissioner Sonja Biserko said women are victims at home and as refugees.

“About 80 percent of refugees are women. Not only do they undergo tough experiences, they very often have to accept to be trafficked and sold to Chinese men because they do not want to return. But once caught by Chinese and sent back home they undergo severe punishments, either sent to prisons or kept in detention centers and treated in the most horrible way,” said Biserko.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, wrote that it is illegal for citizens to try to leave that country. He expressed concern that the government of Kim Jong-un has enacted a shoot-on-sight decree on persons crossing the northern border into China.

Darusman said that policy, coupled with harsh punishments inflicted on asylum seekers who are returned home, may in part be the reason for a drop in the numbers of North Koreans who have safely reached South Korea since 2012.

Darusman also criticized Pyongyang for its “military first” policy, saying it has put millions at risk of serious food shortages “that border on mass famine”.

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