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A new report has revealed North Korea’s ‘torture’ and ‘other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’ of detainees.
Compiled by UN Secretary General António Guterres, it’s due to be presented to the General Assembly in September, giving an overview of the ‘situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ with gathered intelligence and first-hand accounts.
In addition to surveying any incidents between August 2020 and July 2021, it also includes accounts from 2010 and 2019. North Korea has not contributed to the report.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights conducted interviews with recent escapees in the Republic of Korea (South Korea), outlining a number of human rights challenges that the North must address, Guterres said.
One section of the report specifically concerns inhumane treatment, with ‘consistent and credible accounts of the systematic infliction of severe physical and mental pain or suffering upon detainees, through beatings, stress positions and starvation’.
People are said to have been beaten during interrogations to ‘forcibly extract confessions, as a means of discipline (e.g. for failing to sit absolutely still for prolonged periods or failing to criticise fellow detainees sufficiently harshly during group criticism sessions) and upon the failure to pay bribes’.
One woman recalled being beaten by a Ministry of State Security officer with firewood ‘so the skin on my face tore open, my chin became dislocated and four of my teeth were knocked out’, she said. Another woman was forced to kneel, ‘and they beat me on my thigh. I could not walk properly for a year’.
Some detainees were also asked ‘to place their heads on the bars [of the cell] and the guards would beat us with a club… we were just like punching bags to them’.
Minor infractions are also punished with severe punishment. ‘There was a 70-litre tub filled with water, and they made us splash that water over the floor and sit on top of it, which would soak our trousers and freeze our bodies over,’ one female former detainee said.
After one detainee was heard snoring, all 12 detainees in a single cell were asked to ‘extend their hands forward and do 1,000 squats. I was young so it was okay, but those who were older fainted on the spot’, an interviewee said.
‘In the fixed position, you had to be on your knees with the rest of your body off the ground, with your hands extended forward; you had to stay like that for hours. If you moved, they made you stick your hands out and hit them with a cane,’ another former detainee said.
Guterres has recommended North Korea ‘take immediate steps to address the serious human rights challenges in the country and end violations’ and allow international access to assist citizens in the COVID-19 pandemic with vaccines and other efforts.
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