28 March 2003
The European Union is preparing to introduce the first-ever resolution criticizing North Korea at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Human rights groups say it is past time for the U.N.'s top human rights forum to take a stand on North Korea's conduct.
Diplomats say the EU will introduce the resolution and the United States will support it. Reuters news agency reports the draft expresses deep concerns about torture, harsh and degrading treatment, public executions and capital punishment for political crimes. The draft resolution is also believed to call on North Korea to allow U.N. officials to investigate the country's alleged human rights violations.
In its submission to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, North Korea said torture is prohibited by law. It says forced labor is "never used as a means of political coercion or of social and religious punishment." North Korea adds that its Criminal Procedures Act strictly limits detentions and arrests.
But human rights activists like Caroline Cox of Christian Solidarity Worldwide say that is just talk. Ms. Cox says independent sources estimate that between 150,000 and 200,000 people, including women and children, are in forced labor camps in North Korea. "The people of North Korea come very much into that priority category, trapped behind closed borders, suffering there and also very often, if they have defected, suffering elsewhere," she said. "The extent of human rights violations they have suffered we believe, puts them at the acute category in the world today."
Ms. Cox says the source of her information includes eyewitness accounts of people like former North Korean prisoner Lee Min Bok. Mr. Lee says he has seen prisoners work 18 hours a day, forced to drink sewage water, and beaten to death. "They are only skin and bones," said Mr. Lee. " Their nails do not grow. They do not have hair. They are tempted to look at their fellow prisoners as something to eat. At that time, I could understand how cannibalism could happen. In North Korean detention camps there are no sanitation facilities."
The relief group, Doctors Without Borders, says it has provided food and medical assistance to hundreds of North Koreans. But group member Sophie Delaunay says there is evidence over the past three years that food aid to North Korea has been diverted to the government, the military and the black market. "We could give lots of information from testimonies how aid was diverted, channeled through the market, through the military," she said.
Doctors Without Borders and other groups are also concerned about China's treatment of North Koreans seeking asylum. They say China forcibly repatriates North Korean defectors who are then put into labor camps. The activists say the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees should do more to help the North Korean asylum seekers.