The United Nations wants to remind everyone that while the world was busy worrying about North Korea's terrible nuclear missiles they were ignoring North Korea's even more terrible human rights abuses. Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Monday that there has been "no sign of improvement" since Kim Jong-un took over the country a year ago, and that indifference to their political prison camps allows North Korea to "mistreat its citizens to a degree that should be unthinkable in the 21st century."
Pillay's report estimates that there are more 200,000 people in North Korea's prison camps, many for peaceful expression of opinions, and they are subject to "torture, summary executions, rape, slave labor, and forms of collective punishment that may amount to crimes against humanity." The commissioner says the deplorable system "affects almost the entire population and has no parallel anywhere else in the world."
While most of the recent international chatter about North Korea has focused on stopping their development of nuclear weapons and missiles (and the odd behavior of their leaders), the plight of its citizens both in and out of the camps has gone largely unnoticed. It also may not help when influential people like Google's Eric Schmidt go there to complain about Internet access, while almost all who live there are starving. Information about the prison camps is also hard to come by because so few people who have been to the camps ever manage to leave alive.
Last year, the book Escape from Camp 14 told the story of Shin In Guen, one of the only known prisoners to ever make it out of North Korea alive. Among the many horrors it detailed was the tale of how Shin once informed on his own mother and brother when they tried to escape, then was forced to watch as they were executed. The U.S. Commission report lays out similar stories of whole families being wiped out as reprisals for bad behavior — and of a mother who had to wrap her newborn baby in leaves because she had no blankets.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.