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UN rights experts urge investigation into North Korea political prisons

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea [official website] Marzuki Darusman and a group of independent human rights experts on Thursday announced their support for an international inquiry [UN News Centre report] into human rights violations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to bring awareness to the country's system of political prison camps. Emphasizing that the allegations of prisoner abuse require further investigation, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] Chairman El-Hadji Malick Sow [SCSL backgrounder] explained how many of the system's 150,000 prisoners have been found "guilty of political crimes such as expressing antisocialist sentiments, having unsound ideology, or criticizing the government." In addition to reports that detainees are often not told why they have been arrested or when they will be released, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions [official website] Christof Heyns added that those who attempt to escape are allegedly executed by firing squad or hanging. According to the group, prisoners also endure some of the most egregious violations of international law, including forced labor with little food and no access to healthcare, and torture for breaking camp rules, as Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment [official website] Juan Mendez described. Mendez also explained that reports indicate the raping and sexual exploitation of female prisoners by prison guards, and that "resultant pregnancies are met with forced abortion or killing." Darusman will present a comprehensive report of all findings on North Korea's human rights situation to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] on March 11.

Earlier this month Darusman similarly urged [JURIST report] the UNHRC and the UN General Assembly [official website] to investigate human rights violations in North Korea. In November, he expressed concern [JURIST report] over the country's lack of development in human rights, and called on its new leader, Kim Jong-un [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], to remedy the matter. Last month UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] condemned North Korea's human rights record [JURIST report] and urged the international community to make efforts to improve the situation. Pillay's plea came only days after Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] called on the UN [JURIST report] to examine human rights abuses, particularly in light of the drop in individuals escaping into China and reports by successful escapees of increasing crackdown on escape attempts.

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