* First UN report points to "pattern" of state abuse
* Inquiry chief draws comparison to Nazi camps
* North Korea swiftly rejects U.N. findings
* China, Belarus and Syria rise to defence
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Sept 17 Inmates in North Korea's prison
camps suffered starvation and torture and described "unspeakable
atrocities" comparable with Nazi abuses uncovered after the
Second World War, U.N. investigators said on Tuesday.
Evidence in their report, swiftly rejected by Pyongyang,
showed a disturbing pattern of human rights violations, said
Michael Kirby, who chairs the independent inquiry.
The U.N. set up the inquiry into reports of abuses in March,
following pressure by Japan, South Korea and Western powers to
begin building a case for possible criminal prosecution.
Kirby said the preliminary findings were based on testimony
from dozens of North Korean exiles, including former political
prison camps inmates, given at public hearings in Seoul and
Tokyo last month.
They were also backed up by satellite imagery of labour
camps, he added. The team did not get permission to visit the
country despite repeated requests.
"I believe you will be very disturbed and distressed by it
and that you will have reaction similar to those of (U.S.)
General Eisenhower and the others who came upon the camps in
post-war Europe," Kirby told reporters.
The situations in North Korea and Nazi Germany were not
"exactly analogous", he said. But "an image flashed across my
mind of the arrival of Allied soldiers at the end of the Second
World War and the discovery of prison camps ... in the countries
that had been occupied by the Nazi forces."
The independent inquiry would seek to determine which North
Korean institutions and officials were responsible, he added.
"The commission listened to political prison camp survivors
who suffered through childhoods of starvation and unspeakable
atrocities," he told the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier.
Some were being punished for alleged crimes committed by
relatives from past generations under a policy of "guilt by
association" he said.
The report did not say what kind of prosecution might be
considered. North Korea is not a member of the International
Criminal Court, but the U.N. Security Council can ask the
Hague-based court to investigate alleged abuses by
"POLITICISED ACCUSATIONS" - CHINA
North Korean diplomat Kim Yong Ho dismissed the inquiry as a
"political plot" to force regime change in North Korea. It had
been politicised by the European Union and Japan, "in alliance
with the U.S. hostile policy", Kim told the Geneva forum.
"We will continue to oppose any attempt of regime change and
pressure under pretext of 'human rights protection'," he said.
North Korea's main ally China, joined by Belarus and Syria,
were among countries defending it during the 90-minute debate.
"Politicised accusations and pressures are not helpful to
improving human rights in any country. On the contrary they will
only provoke confrontation and undermine the foundation and
atmosphere for international human rights cooperation," said
Chinese diplomat Chen Chuandong.
Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said
in January that North Korea's political prison camps may hold
200,000 or more inmates.
Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that there appeared to have
been "some degree of consolidation" of the camps, estimating
that they may now hold at 100,000 inmates or so, but it was too
soon to say why or what had happened to some of them.
"There does appear to be a fall-off in the number of camps.
There may be a fall-off in the number of prisoners. But why
exactly that is is not entirely clear," he said.
One North Korean witness testified that he had been forced
to "load the many corpses of prisoners who died of starvation,
put them in a pot and burn them, scattering their ashes and
remains on the nearby vegetation fields", he said.
Kirby, a former justice of Australia's top court, told the
council: "I have been a judge for a very long time and I'm
pretty hardened to testimony. But the testimony that I saw in
Seoul and in Tokyo brought tears to my eyes on several
occasions, including testimony of Mr. And Mrs. Yokota."
Their daughter Megumi Yokota, 13, vanished on her way home
from school in Japan in 1977. She was one of 13 Japanese that
Kim Jong-il, the late father of the current leader Kim Jong-un
admitted in 2002 to having kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s to
help train spies. Pyongyang has said eight of them are dead,
One North Korean woman testified how she "witnessed a female
prisoner forced to drown her own baby in a bucket," Kirby said.
U.S. ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said in statement
that the report had "begun to shed light on the horrifying
realities of life in North Korea and raise international
awareness of the ongoing tragedy and barbaric conditions there".