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Amnesty Probes North Korean Human-Rights Abuse

A January 2003 satellite image of the Kwan-li-so Number 14 Kaechon prisoner camp in North Korea.

North Korea’s so-called ‘Day of the Sun’ is to mark the centenary of founder Kim Il-sung’s birth on Sunday, and rights group Amnesty International says it is an opportunity to shed light on the country's poor human-rights record.

"The humanitarian situation in North Korea is horrific," said Rajiv Narayan, Amnesty International’s Korea Researcher.

According to Amnesty, hundreds of thousands of people are detained in prison camps. It says some are deemed to have committed a crime; others are held because of their presumed “guilt by association” - because a family member is thought to have committed a crime.

It says there are six known prison camps. In one, at Yodok, about 50,000 men, women, and children are detained.

"Most of these political prison camps are what we call totally controlled zones, which means that once people are sent to these political prison camps they never come back alive," he said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took power earlier this year after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il. Amnesty says it is concerned that during this transition politically motivated arrests will increase.

Narayan says the political prisons are only one of many human-rights abuses occurring in North Korea.

Amnesty says nearly one million people have died of starvation since the 1990s and related health impacts are widespread. Freedom of speech and movement, it says, are non-existent.

Narayan says international access to North Korea is not possible so what is known comes from satellite imagery and personal accounts from people who have escaped.

North Korea has not acknowledged the existence of the political prison camps. Narayan says acknowledgment should be the first step.

"In a sense, by acknowledging and then by closing these political prison camps, the North Korean government can show a commitment that they are willing to not only engage with the world, but also deal with human-rights issues," said Narayan.

According to the North Korean government on April 15th, which marks the centenary of founder Kim Il-sung’s birth, the country will become a “strong and prosperous nation.”