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North Korea’s Prisons Are as Bad as Nazi Camps, Says Judge Who Survived Auschwitz


Satellite imagery shows the Sinuiju concentration camp (Kyo-hwa-so No. 3) in North Korea, one of the “reeducation” camps for people accused of political and economic crimes. They are just as brutal as the four main penal labor colonies, but prisoners in these camps generally serve fixed terms instead of life sentences. (DigitalGlobe/Getty Images)

wapo-anTOKYO —  Anna Fifield reports: North Korea’s political prisons are just as bad as — and perhaps even worse than — the Nazi concentration camps of the Holocaust, a renowned judge and Auschwitz survivor has concluded after hearing from former North Korean prisoners and guards.

Thomas Buergenthal, who served on the International Court of Justice, is one of three jurists who have concluded that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should be tried for crimes against humanity for the way his regime uses brutal political prisons to control the population.

“I believe that the conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps and in my long professional career in the human rights field,” said Buergenthal, who was in Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen as a child, as well as the ghetto of Kielce, Poland.

He was part of a panel that also included Navi Pillay, a South African judge who presided over the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and then became the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, and Mark Harmon, an American judge who worked on the Yugoslavia and Cambodia war crimes cases.


The three heard evidence from former prisoners, prison guards and experts as part of an inquiry initiated by the International Bar Association.

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

The resulting report, which will be published Tuesday, found that there was ample evidence to charge the Kim regime with 10 of the 11 internationally recognized war crimes — including murder, enslavement, torture and sexual violence — because of its use of political prison camps.

“There is not a comparable situation anywhere in the world, past or present,” Pillay said. “This is really an atrocity at the maximum level, where the whole population is subject to intimidation.”

Three generations of Kims have ruled North Korea as a totalitarian state defined by an all-encompassing personality cult that treats the leaders as demi-gods. Anyone who questions the leaders or the system is liable to be thrown in a penal labor colony — often for life, and often together with three generations of their families to eliminate the “seed” of “enemies of the state.”

Experts estimate there are as many as 130,000 North Koreans held in four huge camps, where they are forced to do hard labor, often in mines, and receive very little in the way of food, clothing or heating. The regime also operates “reeducation” camps for lesser offenses … (read more)

via The Washington Post

Anna Fifield is The Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East. Follow @annafifield

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