North Korea’s grim human rights record that prisoners who tried to escape or steal have reportedly been publicly executed and detainees have been subject to sexual violence and severely beaten with clubs and metal rods, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report.
Guards make detainees undress and repeatedly subject them to body searches for money and concealed items, the report to the UN General Assembly, obtained on Friday by The Associated Press, said.
The prisoners are interrogated, sometimes for up to a month or longer, and their cells are so overcrowded that they cannot lie down, it added.
The UN Human Rights Council received and analyzed accounts of North Koreans who had experienced detention, the vast majority of them women who escaped initially to China, Guterres said, adding that from September last year to May, the office interviewed more than 330 people who left the country.
The former detainees alleged “gross violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of the person” perpetrated by staff, he said.
North Korea has repeatedly said that it does not violate human rights.
North Korean Ambassador to the UN Han Tae-song in May said that the government made a “devoted effort for the good of the people” and “human rights violations, in whatever form, are intolerable.”
However, North Korea has refused to give visas to UN human rights officials, except once in 2017 to an investigator who was looking into conditions for the disabled.
Guterres said that “former detainees report extremely unsanitary conditions and insufficient food causing malnourishment, illness and occasionally also death of other detainees.”
Reports received by the human rights office “include cases of sexual violence by prison officials against female detainees, including during invasive body searches,” Guterres said, adding that some guards make detainees sit or kneel all day, “allowing them to stretch their limbs for two minutes every hour, or less.”
“Moving without permission can result in personal or collective physical punishment,” he said.
During pre-trial periods, detainees are provided no access to lawyers and “accounts reveal that detainees are simply informed of their prison sentences at the end of the investigation, particularly in cases where the accused is sentenced to up to six months in a short-term labor camp,” he said.
Prisoners are forced to work long hours and there are “multiple reports of prisoners dying as a result of accidents,” he added.
Guterres said that accounts documented by the human rights office reveal the “prevalence of corruption” in North Korea’s penal system.
“Bribes can be paid to avoid arrest and detention, to mitigate or avoid prison sentences, to avoid beatings, to ameliorate the harshness of the forced labor required and to secure family visits,” he said.
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