U.N.'s Pillay says may be crimes against humanity in North Korea

Mon Jan 14, 2013 10:22am EST
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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay called on Monday for an international investigation into what she said may be crimes against humanity in North Korea, including torture and executions of political prisoners held in shadowy camps.

She voiced regret that there had been no improvement since Kim Jong-un took power a year ago, succeeding his late father, and said it was time for world powers to help bring about change for the "beleaguered, subjugated population" after decades of abuse.

"Because of the enduring gravity of the situation, I believe an in-depth inquiry into one of the worst - but least understood and reported - human rights situations in the world is not only fully justified, but long overdue," Pillay said in a rare statement on North Korea.

The reclusive country's network of political prison camps are believed to contain 200,000 people or more and have been the scene of rampant violations including rapes, torture, executions and slave labor, according to Pillay, a former judge at the International Criminal Court.

These "may amount to crimes against humanity", she said.

Living conditions in the camps are reported to be "atrocious" with insufficient food, little or no medical care and inadequate clothing for inmates, she said.

"The death penalty seems to be often applied for minor offences and after wholly inadequate judicial processes, or sometimes without any judicial process at all," Pillay said.

"People who try to escape and are either caught or sent back face terrible reprisals including execution, torture and incarceration, often with their entire extended family."   Continued...

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay addresses a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva October 18, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse