Tag Archive | "political prison camps"

Michael Kirby, Chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea

Critical Analysis: Will the Crimes Against Humanity perpetrated in North Korea be prosecuted in the ICC?

October 28, 2014

Speaking before the UN General Assembly on Oct. 28, 2014, Marzuki Darusman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) encouraged action to stem the ongoing human rights abuses in the country.  Specifically, Mr. Darusman encouraged submitting the Commission of Inquiry’s report to the Security Council to “send an unequivocal signal” to the DRPK that serious follow up would be taken.

The report itself found systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations amounting in some cases to crimes against humanity.  The human rights violations are unsurprising to most members of the international community.  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both reported on the many egregious conditions imposed upon the people of the DRPK.  One example are prison camps for political offenders that impose ‘collective punishment’ (imprisoning entire families, including the children of offenders).  According to the US State Department, the political prisoners number in the tens of thousands and may exceed 80,000 individuals.

Although Mr. Darusman’s recommendation before the General Assembly made headlines, the statement is a reiteration of the findings of the Commission.  Specifically, the Commission stated that:

The United Nations must ensure that those most responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People’s Rebublic of Korea are held accountable.  Options to achieve this end include a Security Council Referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal by the United Nations.

The language used in the Commission’s report demonstrates a clear call for justice on the international stage.

Michael Kirby, Chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea

Chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, Michael Kirby, spoke at U.N. headquarters, urging action on the report. Photo Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi / European Pressphoto Agency, http://articles.latimes.com/2014/feb/17/world/la-fg-un-north-korea-20140218.

Non-cooperation has been an ongoing problem for the Commission, as is noted in the report, but recent developments must have caught the attention of the DRPK officials.  Mr. Darusman was “unexpectedly” met by four North Korean diplomats who sought to discuss a potential visit to the DPRK.  The meeting was the first contact with a UN inspector regarding the human rights situation in the last 10 years.  Reaching out may be a good sign, but it remains to be seen whether North Korea will allow Mr. Darusman access to the political prisons much less acknowledge their existence.

Equally unclear is whether the issue would withstand the veto powers of Russia or China if it reaches the Security Council.  Both nations have aligned with North Korean interests in the past.  Russia itself currently faces significant political pressure in the international arena, but that is certainly no predictor of how the delegation will vote.

Jordan Edmondson is a 3L at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Google Earth Helps Inspire Human Rights Response Towards North Korea

A number of structures have been identified at camp 22. These include guard houses and burial grounds. (The Telegraph)

A number of structures have been identified at camp 22. These include guard houses and burial grounds. (The Telegraph)

North Korea has been a frequent topic in news headlines lately – from the country’s threat of a nuclear launch to Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s trip to Pyongyang.  However, another story that has been percolating just below the surface for years is just now starting to get attention: Google Maps’ and Google Earth’s revelation of prison camps through satellite imagery.

North Korea’s system of political prisons has operated for over fifty years, yet Pyongyang still insists the camps do not exist.  The only source of information about the camps has come out through the few who have managed to escape from the camps, until now.  On January 18, North Korean Economy Watch announced that a new camp has been identified through the use of Google Earth.  Analyst Curtis Melvin, one of those credited with identifying the camp, has said that the perimeter fence stretches nearly thirteen miles.  With Google Earth’s satellite images, North Korean Economy Watch has identified two entry points, six possible guard posts, a non-operational coal mine, and a number of accommodation units and office buildings.  Human rights activists maintain watch over the camps with this form of constant satellite imagery.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea receives imagery and analysis pro bono in a project with DigitalGlobe.  DigitalGlobe is a 20-year-old Colorado firm that provides some of Google Earth’s satellite imagery.  After companies like DigitalGlobe get the imagery, human rights activists such as Joshua Stanton, a Washington lawyer who runs a blog called One Free Korea, analyze the features of what look like political prisoner camps.  Stanton’s work, as well as Melvin’s and Google Earth’s, received acknowledgement in the 2012 edition of “The Hidden Gulag” by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

Although the gulags are not news for these analysts, they are for the rest of the world.  Putting the gulags on Google Maps may have gotten a lot of jokes, but it also gave activists a “reason to hope that the world might finally take notice.”  With the gulags now visible to the world, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay is urging the establishment of an independent international inquiry into the mass atrocity crimes taking place in North Korea.  She has “a rare window for meaningful action” because North Korea’s strongest allies, including China, Russia, and Cuba, will finish their terms on the U.N. Human Rights Council before the new session opens next month. This is especially important as other nations, the United States in particular, are focusing on North Korea’s nuclear program and rocket launches.  Unfortunately, even though the country’s deplorable human rights situation is now in the open, many leaders fear a human rights discussion would drive Pyongyang away from talks about its weapons programs.

As more and more information comes out about North Korea’s hidden gulags, possibly just from satellite imagery by organizations like Google Earth, it will become harder to turn a blind eye on North Korea’s human rights situation.  Google Earth is forcing people to do something about the prison camps in North Korea, whether through negotiations, U.N. actions, or pressure from the international community.

Samantha Peaslee is a 1L at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law and a staff editor at the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law

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