UN orders North Korea to shut down political prison camps

Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, has asked the communist country to release those Koreans believed to be languishing in political prison camps.

“I have heard accounts that…the system, the political regime in North Korea, would not survive without the existence of political prison camps,” Ojea Quintana told a news briefing.

Noting that there were occasional amnesties for prisoners, he added, “I really urge the leadership to continue to release prisoners, especially those most vulnerable and, ultimately of course, I call for the dismantlement of these facilities.”

He also urged regional and world powers to raise the issue of prison camps with Pyongyang, alongside nuclear concerns.

Quintana said that North Korea’s system of ‘kwanliso,’ or political prison camps, constituted crimes against humanity – a charge Pyongyang has rejected – and called for perpetrators to face justice.

North Korea has repeatedly denied the existence of political prison camps and previously accused Western powers of using criticism of human rights as part of a hostile policy towards the communist country.

Earlier, addressing the Human Rights Council, Quintana urged North Korea to reopen its borders to aid workers and food imports, saying that its self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic may have left many facing “hunger and starvation.”

North Korea has not reported any COVID-19 cases and has imposed strict anti-virus measures since the onset of the pandemic two years ago, including border closures and domestic travel curbs.

Foreign aid agencies and embassies largely left the country after restrictions made it difficult to maintain a presence there.

North Korea does not recognize Ojea Quintana’s mandate as U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea.