MS Risk Blog

UN: Reports Suggest that North Korea Treating Foreign Detainees Inhumanely

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According to a United Nations investigator, foreign detainees in North Korea are reportedly being denied due process in court and being held in inhumane conditions.

Last month, Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, disclosed that military threats being exchanged by Washington and Pyongyang were diverting attention from the needs of ordinary North Koreans. While he welcomed the release earlier in August of Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim on humanitarian grounds, after he served more than two years of a sentence of hard labour for life on charges of plotting to overthrow the regime, the UN expert noted that at least nine other foreigners – three Americans and six citizens of South Korea – remain in custody in North Korea.

In a statement issued in Geneva, Ojea Quintana disclosed, “I am concerned by reports that detainees are not receiving due legal process and are being held in inhumane conditions.” He went on to say that North Korean authorities are obliged to provide foreign detainees with access to consular support and an interpreter, “but these entitlements cannot be taken for granted, based on the information I have been receiving.” A 2014 UN report catalogued massive violations in North Korea, including large prison camps, starvation and executions, that it said should be brought tot the International Criminal Court (ICC). The landmark report, which was strongly rejected by Pyongyang, stated that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might be personally responsible for crimes against humanity.   The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which visits detainees worldwide, does not have access to political prison camps in North Korea, which are believed to hold some 100,000 people.

Otto Warmbier, a US student held for seventeen months after being sentenced to fifteen years in hard labour for trying to steal a propaganda item from his hotel, was released in a coma in June and died within days of arriving back in the US. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.