N Korea Holding 150,000 in Camps, Rights Group Says
More than 150,000 North Koreans are incarcerated in a Soviet-style, hidden gulag despite the government’s denial it holds political prisoners, a human rights group reported yesterday.
The US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea said it based its report on interviews with 60 former prisoners and guards. It includes satellite images of what are described as prison labor camps and penitentiaries.
The report documents the alleged incarceration of entire families, including children and grandparents for the “political crimes” of other family members. It also documents infanticide and forced abortions of female prisoners who illegally crossed into China and got pregnant by men there, and were then forcibly repatriated to North Korea.
The committee, a private, US-based group, was scheduled to hold a conference in Washington yesterday, timed for Pyongyang’s celebrations to mark the centennial of the repressive nation’s founder.
The US envoy on North Korean human rights, Robert King, was due to address the conference, which takes place as the international spotlight shines on the North over its plans to launch a long-range rocket and, according to South Korean intelligence, a third nuclear weapons test.
“It is not just nuclear weapons that have to be dismantled,” said Roberta Cohen, chairwoman of the committee’s board of directors, “but an entire system of political repression.”
The report says the camp system was initially modeled in the 1950s on the Soviet gulag to punish “wrong thinkers” and those belonging to the “wrong political class” or religious persuasion.
It cites estimates from North Korean state security agency officials who defected to South Korea that the camp system holds between 150,000 and 200,000 people out of a total population of about 24 million.
It urges North Korea to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access and to dismantle the camps.