Human-rights groups are petitioning the United Nations to investigate suspected prison camps in North Korea. Activists say thousands of North Koreans have died from starvation and forced labor in the gulag-like facilities.
A group calling itself the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea says 400,000 North Koreans have died in labor or prison camps during the past 60 years. And according to activists, as many as 200,000 prisoners remain locked up today.
Human rights in North Korea are often overshadowed by security concerns, especially Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
Jared Genser of the international law firm Perseus Strategies says petitioning the United Nations will force member states to stop ignoring the violations taking place in the North.
“While North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are an obvious priority, the international community has an unfulfilled obligation to ameliorate the suffering inside North Korea," said Genser. "It is time for the U.N. to take the lead in helping to put an end to the gulag.”
Interest in North Korean human rights violations has surged of late. That is due in part to the publication of Escape From Camp 14, a book detailing the life of North Korean refugee Shin Dong-hyuk, a man born into one of these labor camps.
In this memoir, written by former Washington Post correspondent Blain Harden, Shin describes the torture he and his family endured and how he watched the public execution of his mother and brother.
This and similar first-hand accounts from defectors form the backbone of the coalition’s case against North Korea.
Amnesty International’s Jack Rendler says there is enough evidence to justify a U.N. investigation.
“What we want to have happen is that the U.N., the U.N. Human Rights Council, will establish a commission of inquiry to look into the violations that have occurred by virtue of there being a prison camp and labor camp system in North Korea and the abuses that occur within that system,” said Rendler.
Rendler acknowledges that getting the United Nations to take action against North Korea will not be easy, but he says activists need to keep pushing.
He says that on April 14 Amnesty International will deliver petitions with 170,000 names to the North Korean Mission to the United Nations in Switzerland.