Any North Korea Visit Must Include Access to Prison Camps: U.N. Rights Envoy

nk-marzuki-2013.gif Marzuki Darusman (L) and other members of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in North Korea listen to family members of Japanese abductees by North Korean agents during a public hearing in Tokyo, Aug. 29, 2013.

A U.N. human rights investigator has said he is prepared to consider an invitation from North Korea to visit the reclusive one-party state, but only if he is allowed access to the country’s network of political prison camps, which have been linked to massive human rights abuses.

Pyongyang had linked its invitation, issued on Monday, to a demand that a U.N.-mandated report drop a recommendation that North Korean leaders be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague for possible prosecution on charges of crimes against humanity.

North Korea’s prison camps “have been uppermost” in the concerns of the international community regarding human rights abuses in the politically isolated country, U.N. special rapporteur on North Korea Marzuki Darusman told RFA’s Korean Service in an interview on Wednesday.

“Therefore, a first visit will have to touch on that—at least the recognition on the part of North Korea that this has to be clarified,” Darusman said.

If permission to visit the camps is refused, “then we cannot undertake a visit,” he said.


Reports had said that the offer for a visit, which would be unprecedented, was made Monday by North Korean diplomats in a surprise meeting.

The next day, Darusman presented to the U.N. General Assembly the findings of a report by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) pointing to widespread abuses in North Korea including murder, starvation, torture, and other crimes—many of these committed in the politically isolated country’s prison camps.

“What really prompted the establishment of the COI was the massive concern of the international community on the existence and the operations of these prison camps,” Darusman, an Indonesian lawyer and participant in the inquiry before he was made rapporteur, told RFA .

“That was a primary factor,” Darusman said.

Voting next month

A draft resolution co-sponsored by Japan and the European Union (EU) will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly later this week, with a vote expected next month, and will blame Pyongyang’s rights abuses on policies set by senior leaders and call for North Korea’s referral to the ICC.

And though North Korean envoys have pressed for removal of this language from the resolution, “deletion is out of the question,” Darusman said.

“The recommendations stand as they are, and cannot be put aside because of political considerations.”

“But having said that, there are ways of formulating these issues in ways that take into account the concerns of states other than the co-sponsors of the resolution,” Darusman said.

Pyongyang’s invitation to the special rapporteur to visit North Korea, however, is a “stand-alone, independent matter that should not be linked to any part of the text of the resolution,” he said.

Reported by Borah Jung for RFA’s Korean Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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