by Jamison Maeda
As many as 27,000 North Korean prisoners have disappeared from Camp 22, one of North Korea’s notoriously brutal labor camps. According to the director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Camp 22, which is the size of London and at one time held 50,000 prisoners, recently moved several thousand prisoners to other camps. This leaves approximately 27,000 unaccounted for and feared dead from starvation. This information comes from former prisoners, former guards, and satellite photos.
Last month a UN investigation published a 372-page report on North Korean prison camps detailing allegations of human rights violations committed by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his regime. Investigators have notified Kim that they will be advising the UN to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court.
North Korea’s already brutal regime has been accused of numerous human rights abuses against prisoners including torture, starvation, execution (including children), infanticide, sexual assault, and a North Korean defector who spent time in Camp 22 said prisoners have been used as test subjects for chemical weapons.
Because North Korea refuses to provide any kind of transparency or allow inspections, it is unclear how many people are imprisoned in the labor camps. Estimates range anywhere from 100,000 to over 200,000 according to Human Rights Watch. The numbers would be substantially higher had hundreds of thousands of prisoners not already died or been killed.
China, which supplies North Korea with military and economic support could use its influence to improve the conditions of North Korean prisoners, but doesn’t. In fact, any escapees captured in China are forcibly repatriated to North Korea where they are tortured and most likely executed. If the matter of North Korean prisons goes to the International Criminal Court, senior officials in Beijing could also face charges.
The U.N. has already banned the export of luxury goods to North Korea, and recently China banned the export of several weapon-related items.
US sanctions similar to these were so successful from 2005 to 2007 that North Korea agreed to destroy some of its nuclear weapons. Unfortunately those sanctions were lifted by President George W. Bush.