North Korea blurs lines between prison camps, villages: Amnesty

GENEVA Wed Mar 6, 2013 10:14pm EST

1 of 3. What human rights organisation Amnesty International calls 20 possible guard posts are seen in North Korea's Ch'oma-Bong valley, in this satellite image released by Amnesty International in London on March 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Digital Globe 2013/Amnesty International/handout

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GENEVA (Reuters) - North Korea has built a huge "security perimeter" around a camp for political prisoners, restricting movement in nearby villages as part of its "general repression" of its people, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

The reclusive country's network of political prison camps is believed to hold at least 200,000 people and has been the scene of rapes, torture, executions and slave labor, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in January.

Analysis of new satellite images of the area near Camp No. 14 in Kaechon shows that the government is "blurring the lines" between its camps and surrounding civilians, Amnesty said.

The images show that between 2006 and 2013, North Korea has constructed 20 km (12 miles) of posts around the Ch'oma-Bong valley and its inhabitants, along with check points and guard towers, it said in a statement voicing fears about government intentions for the valley, 70 km north of the capital Pyongyang.

"The security and control adjacent to Camp 14 shows the degree to which general repression and restrictions on the right to liberty of movement have become commonplace in North Korea," said Rajiv Narayan, North Korea researcher for Amnesty.

The London-based group called on the U.N. Human Rights Council, holding its main annual session in Geneva through March 22, to launch an international commission of inquiry into grave and systematic violations "including crimes against humanity".

North Korea denies the existence of a network of camps.

A similar U.N. investigation similar to the one Amnesty is demanding, made up of independent experts, has said it is documenting war crimes committed by both sides in Syria's conflict so as to build a case for future prosecution.

Top U.N. rights official Pillay, who met two North Korean camp survivors in December, has called for an independent investigation into "one of the worst - but least understood and reported - human rights situations".

Concerns about abuses in the impoverished country have persisted for years, but have been largely overshadowed in international forums by fears over North Korea's attempts to become a nuclear weapons power.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote later on Thursday on a draft resolution in response to North Korea's third underground nuclear test last month.

"MORE WORRISOME"

Amnesty commissioned DigitalGlobe to take the images and help with their analysis following reports of the possible construction of a new political prison camp adjacent to Camp No. 14 in Kaechon, South Pyongyan province.

"We expected to find a new or expanded prison camp. What we found is in some ways even more worrisome," said Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA.

The security perimeter beyond what appears to be the formal boundaries of Camp 14 blurs the line between people in the prison system known as Kwan-li-so and civilians, he said.

New buildings that appear to house workers are probably linked to expanded mining activity in the region, Amnesty said.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans, including children, are held in political prison camps and other detention facilities, often subjected to forced hard labor, denial of food rations, and torture, it said.

Many detainees have not committed any crime, but are relatives of those deemed unfriendly to the regime and detained as a form of "collective punishment", it added.

Japan and the United States called last week for the council to launch an inquiry into alleged violations including torture and execution of political prisoners in North Korea.

The council already has an independent investigator on North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, who has said a wider inquiry should examine personal and institutional accountability for crimes.

Activists hope the forum adopts a resolution on North Korea by consensus now that neither China nor Russia are members.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by David Goodman)

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