Torture, forced labor rife in North Korea, U.N. says as U.S. mulls sanctions

Torture, forced labor rife in North Korea, U.N. says as U.S. mulls sanctions


Torture and forced labor are widespread in North Korea’s prisons, amounting to possible crimes against humanity, the United Nations human rights office said in early February 2021, as the United States weighs fresh sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The report, issued seven years after a landmark U.N. investigation found that the North Korean regime was committing crimes against humanity, also said that political prison camps run by North Korean security forces persist, although information is scarce. (Pictured: North Korean defectors and South Korean protesters call attention to human rights abuses by the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a February 2019 rally in Seoul.)

“Not only does impunity prevail, but human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity continue to be committed,” Michelle Bachelet, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.

She urged world powers to pursue justice and prevent further violations. The report called for the U.N. Security Council to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for prosecutions or establish an ad hoc tribunal.

“Accountability for grave human rights violations and ongoing crimes against humanity should not be a secondary consideration in bringing North Korea to the negotiating table,” U.N. Human Rights Office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said,

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking on NBC News on February 1, said additional sanctions could be used against North Korea in coordination with U.S. allies as a way toward denuclearization of the divided Korean Peninsula. Other tools include unspecified diplomatic incentives, he said.

North Korea denies the existence of political prison camps and in July 2020 denounced Britain for announcing sanctions against two organizations that the British government said are involved in forced labor, torture and murder in the camps.

The U.N. report, citing interviews with former detainees, said it continued to receive “consistent and credible accounts of the systematic infliction of severe physical and mental pain or suffering upon detainees, through the infliction of beatings, stress positions and starvation in places of detention.”

This reconfirmed the 2014 findings of the U.N. inquiry, led by a former Australian judge, Michael Kirby, and “indicates that the crime against humanity of torture continues to take place in the ordinary prison system,” it said.

Forced labor, “which may amount to the crime against humanity of enslavement,” also persists in prisons, the report said.