Kerry Tells North Korea to Shut Down Its Prison Camp System

In one of the highest profile responses to this past February’s report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, United States Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 22 urged North Korea to shut down prison camps in the country.

“We say to the North Korean government, all of us here today, you should close those camps, you should shut this evil system down,” said Kerry an event on North Korea’s human rights abuses, held at this week’s U.N. General Assembly meetings.

The more than 400-page U.N. report made detailed findings of rampant human rights abuses in North Korea, and particularly in its prison camp system. Indeed, the Commission said that “[i]n many instances, the violations found entailed crimes against humanity based on State policies.” In the prison camp context, the report found gross human rights violations in the government’s coordinated practice of arbitrarily detaining, torturing, executing, and disappearing individuals accused of political crimes. At the time of the reports released, there were an estimated 80,000-120,000 individuals in four large political prison camps. Among their number are three Americans: Jeffrey Fowle, Matthew Miller, and Kenneth Bae.

Heading into U.N. General Assembly meetings on North Korea, human rights organizations (including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) are raising awareness of abuses in the North Korean prison camp system. And at the dinner last night, Kerry advocated for action on the part of the U.N., saying that “North Korea’s secrecy [can no longer] be seen as an excuse for silence or ignorance or inaction.”

Hopefully, this week’s publicity will serve as a clarion call for more action aimed at curbing the now well-documented human rights abuses in North Korean labor camps. 

About the Author(s)

Megan Graham

Former Assistant Managing Editor and Security, Privacy, and Technology Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@meganmcgraham).