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Monday, Dec. 8, 2008

U.S. human rights activist calls for end of North Korean gulag


Staff writer

American human rights investigator David Hawk said Sunday in Tokyo there should be a plan for dismantling North Korea's notorious political prison camps, not just the country's nuclear facilities.

Speaking at the International Conference for the Abolition of Concentration Camps in North Korea, a meeting sponsored by Japanese human rights group No Fence in North Korea, Hawk said, "There should also be international thought and attention not only to disabling and dismantling the nuclear production facilities at Yongbyon, but also to disable and dismantle the prison camps in North Korea."

The group estimates there are as many as 300,000 political prisoners held in labor camps in remote regions of North Korea, with many subjected to torture and summary execution.

Several former prisoners spoke at the meeting of conditions in the North Korean gulag.

Im Jyong Su, who said he was in the No. 18 political prison camp, told the audience that some of the people who moved from Japan to North Korea in the 1960s were put in the harshest and most heavily guarded section of the camp.

"I was told that they were the people who came on ships from Japan. Even before reaching the shore, they demanded to go back to Japan. Apparently they realized on the way that the 'worker's paradise' propaganda was a complete lie," Im said, adding they were instead forced on to buses and taken to prison camps.

On how to dismantle the prison camps, Hawk cited how Human Rights First, a prominent U.S. human rights group, came up with a blueprint for closing down the prison for terrorism suspects at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"The blueprint for how to close Guantanamo has 17 steps. The first eight steps to be taken during the Obama administration's first month in office, six additional steps to be taken during the first six months in office, and three final steps to take within the first year," he said.

Hawk suggested that a similar blueprint could be developed in consultation with former North Korean political prisoners.

Hawk is a former executive director of Amnesty International, U.S.A. and author of "Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea's Prison Camps" and "Human Rights and the Crisis in North Korea."



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