Horror of North Korean Prison Camps Revealed in CSW Report on International Human Rights Day

Friday, December 20, 2002

The horror of life for tens of thousands of prisoners in North Korea has been documented in a new CSW report to coincide with International Human Rights Day.

CSW conducted interviews with 50 North Koreans in four different countries and heard of human rights abuses such as arbitrary executions and torture for this report which provides a rare insight into conditions in North Korea's secret prison camps.

People are sent to prison camps if they are deemed to be unworthy citizens or connected with someone who has in some way offended the system under North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.

Interrogation methods in these camps range from water torture, sexual assault, severe beatings and psychological abuse.

Prisoners are deformed as a result of the abuse, malnutrition and hard and dangerous work. There are also reports of chemical experimentation on political prisoners.

This week a former prison guard who defected to South Korea identified satellite images of one of the camps he worked in which held 50,000 people. These images were published last week by the Far Eastern Economic Review, who got them from Digital-Globe, a US-based commercial provider of satellite imagery.

The same guard told CSW of the first time he saw prison inmates: "They looked like beasts, but they were working so I knew they were human beings. All had a deformity - limping, bent shoulders. They had sunken eyes, like a skull; unfocused, fearful."

He said that as a guard there were virtually no limits to the punishments he could inflict: "You can do anything you like, but do not kill them - unless they resist authority."

The report details how torturers were selected for their cruelty in tests of increasing barbarity, and that only those who inflicted the greatest pain on their victims and showed the least compassion would be selected.

Both guards and torturers are trained not to see the prisoners as human beings, but as sub-human and animals. One witness described how she saw a prisoner giving birth to a baby and the nurses cutting the umbilical cord and then smothering the baby with a wet towel.

Another witness told CSW how children were also interned in these camps, but were not allowed any contact with their mothers, who although they could see them, could not meet their needs of hunger and warmth.

Sanitary conditions in these prisons are appalling, with no provision for washing or cleaning the one set of clothes prisoners are allowed.

Prisoners were known to have been raped, and one witness described how prisoners were used for martial arts practice.

There has recently been a severe clampdown on the border between China and North Korea and large numbers of North Koreans have been repatriated to face interrogation and possible execution.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said: "As more and more evidence emerges of the inhuman abuse of people in these concentration camps, it is no longer an option to pretend that these camps do not exist. To stand back and do nothing can no longer be morally justifiable.

"CSW works all over the world, but on International Human Rights Day, we want to state that the treatment of prisoners in North Korea represents one of the worst abuses of human rights we have ever documented.

"We will continue to call on the international community to take all possible steps necessary to close these camps and to ensure that human rights and dignity are restored to the oppressed people of North Korea."

For more information on these stories or individuals or a copy of CSW's report on North Korea, contact Richard Chilvers at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on 020 8949 0587 or 020 8942 8810 or email richard.chilvers@csw.org.uk or go to www.csw.org.uk