N Korea control expands beyond the gulag: Amnesty
Washington: When Amnesty International officials scrutinised new satellite imagery of a notorious North Korean prison camp, what caught their attention was not what was happening inside the fence but outside it.
A network of what appeared to be guard posts enclosing a valley and a small town indicated not an expansion of the sprawling Camp 14, as originally thought, but authorities` control of those living beyond the camp`s perimeter.
The rights group says it`s another good reason to step up scrutiny of human rights conditions in the secretive nation, with its unparalleled restrictions on citizenry and its vast gulag. Amnesty is pushing for member states next week at the UN Human Rights Council to support an independent commission of inquiry into systematic abuses and crimes against humanity in North Korea.
That would add international pressure on Pyongyang, which was hit Thursday with the toughest UN sanctions yet for its latest nuclear test. It has responded by unleashing a barrage of threats against the United States and South Korea, which undertake major military exercises in the region next week.
A UN special rapporteur on human rights is due to present a report on North Korea to the council in Geneva on Monday. Japan, Europe, the US and South Korea have all indicated support for some kind of enhanced inquiry mechanism, and only half of the 47 member states on the council will need to vote in favour for it to be established.
While it is highly unlikely North Korea would allow investigators into the country, Amnesty says a commission of inquiry would lead a better resourced probe into conditions in the country and could provide a basis for some day bringing perpetrators before the International Court of Justice.
"The focus on North Korea right now is on its provocative statements and threats of nuclear strikes. As scary as that prospect is, it`s an extraordinarily remote possibility," Frank Jannuzi , deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA, told reporters yesterday in Washington.
"What is certain is the human tragedy faced by North Koreans every day," Jannuzi said.
A third of North Korean children are chronically malnourished, according to the UN, and up to 200,000 people are held in political prison camps, many simply because they are related to those deemed unfriendly to the authoritarian regime.
The best-selling book "Escape from Camp 14" by author Blaine Harden has shed light onto one corner of the gulag. It tells of Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in the camp, endured forced labor and torture, then at age 23 managed to escape through its electrified fence and eventually reached the West.
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