'Unspeakable atrocities' in North Korea camps, says UN


Former North Korean concentration camp inmate Chol-hwan Kang.


Fabrice Coffrini

United Nations human rights investigators said Tuesday they have evidence that shows inmates of North Korea's prison camps suffer "unspeakable atrocities," including starvation and torture.

In some cases, Pyongyang's agents have also conducted international abductions.

Those violations are part of a “large-scale pattern” of abuse “that may constitute systematic and gross human rights violations,” said Michael Donald Kirby, chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea.

The report is partially based on testimony given by those who escaped North Korean prison camps and testified publicly in Seoul and Tokyo in August. Information was also gained through confidential interviews, or in talks with relatives of those who had been abducted from South Korea and Japan. 

"I have been a judge for a very long time and I'm pretty hardened to testimony," Kirby told the told the Human Rights Council. "But the testimony that I saw in Seoul and in Tokyo brought tears to my eyes on several occasions, including testimony of Mr. And Mrs. Yokota."

One example of an international abduction, 13-year-old Megumi Yokota disappeared while on her way home from school in Japan in 1977. The late Kim Jong Il, former leader of North Korea and father to current leader Kim Jong Un, confessed in 2002 to kidnapping people in the 1970s and 1980s. The victims were supposed to help train North Korean spies. Pyongyang maintains that Megumi is dead.

In another instance, an unidentified North Korean woman said she "witnessed a female prisoner forced to drown her own baby in a bucket."

Kirby has sought access to North Korea, but the government, dismissing the rights probe, refused to comply, saying it “totally and categorically rejects the Commission of Inquiry.”

Kim Yong Ho, the North Korean mission’s counselor to the UN, responded to Kirby's statement, saying the report's evidence had been “fabricated and invented by forces hostile” to North Korea. He said the commission was “a hotbed of confrontation and distrust.”

Investigators have not yet determined who is responsible for the violations. The final report is scheduled to be submitted to the Human Rights Council next March.