North Korea’s “Day of the Sun” – the official title for the centenary of founder Kim Il-Sung’s birth – is an opportunity to shed light on the country’s abysmal human rights record, Amnesty International said today.
According to the North Korean government, the birth centenary on April 15 is the day on which the country will become a ‘strong and prosperous nation’. Nearly a million North Koreans have died of starvation since the 1990s, while millions more suffer the health effects of a persistent food crisis.
Today, hundreds of thousands of people deemed to oppose the state are detained in brutal prison camps, such as the notorious political prison camp at Yodok. Freedom of expression is non-existent in the country.
“The Authorities speak of strength and prosperity but in reality that is a pipedream for North Korean citizens,” said Rajiv Narayan, Amnesty International’s Korea Researcher. “To achieve a “strong and prosperous nation” North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-Un would have to reverse the repression that has been characteristic of the country for decades. He would also have to prioritize taking effective measures to ensure essential food and health care for the whole population.
“Hundreds of thousands of people exist in prison camps in the most inhuman conditions imaginable,” said Narayan. “These are places out of sight of the rest of the world, where almost the entire range of human rights protections are ignored.”
Yodok political prison camp is one of six known political prison camps (kwanliso or Control Center) in North Korea. Tens of thousands of people are held in Yodok political prison camp, with an estimate of around 50,000, and most are imprisoned there without trial or following grossly unfair trials on the basis of “confessions” obtained through torture.
Men, women and children in the camp are tortured and otherwise ill-treated, including being forced to work in dangerous conditions. The combination of hazardous forced labor, inadequate food, beatings, totally inadequate medical care and unhygienic living conditions, result in prisoners falling ill, and a large number die in custody or soon after release.
The North Korean government denies the existence of any political prison camps in North Korea, including Yodok, even though testimonies of former detainees and satellite photographs confirm their existence. You can view satellite images of political prison camps released in May 2011, and an image of a family at Yodok political prison camp.
The political prison camp at Yodok, home to around 50,000 men, women and children, is one of six known political prison camps in North Korea, in which a total estimated 200,000 political prisoners and their families are imprisoned without trial or following grossly unfair trials.
Testimonies from former guards and former inmates of Yodok have revealed that prisoners are frequently subjected to torture, forced labor and execution. Family members of those suspected of crimes are also sent to Yodok – a system of “guilt by association” used to silence dissent and control the population through fear.
In January 2012, at least 31 North Koreans who had been detained in China were reportedly forcibly returned to North Korea. These people could be sent to political prison camps where they are at risk of torture, forced labor, or execution.
North Korean authorities refuse to acknowledge the existence of these political prison camps. Amnesty International activists around the world have been signing petitions and writing appeals to the North Korean authorities, urging them to close Yodok and other political prison camps.
“North Korea’s authorities must acknowledge these camps exist – they must close Yodok political prison camp, and stop these appalling, systematic human rights abuses,” said Narayan.