Press Release
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No                   : 770/SK-KontraS/X/2014
Subject             : Condemning the Statement of the North Korea’s UN Delegation which Denied the Existence of Prison Camps Instead of   Saying Detention Center to improved Mentality of People

Embassy of North Korea in Jakarta
Jl. Teluk Betung No.1-2, Menteng Jakarta Pusat
Phone: (021) 3190.8425
Fax:  (021) 3190.8427


Dear Excellencies,

The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) – a human rights non-governmental organization based in Jakarta – strongly deplored the attitude of the North Korea’s UN Delegation in a meeting to response to a highly critical UN human rights report released earlier this year. North Korea’s UN Delegation denied about the existence of prison camps in North Korea. Choe Myong-nam, a North Korean foreign ministry official in charge of UN affairs and human rights issues, said at a briefing with reporters that his country had no prison camps. But he briefly discussed the “reform through labour” camps, describing them as “detention centers where people are improved through their mentality and look on their wrongdoings”.

We also condemn the further statements made by North Korean authorities who said that North Korea was a "transition society", and "there might be some problems, for example in the economic and other areas, we may need to establish more houses and social facilities in order to provide people with better living conditions". He blamed North Korea's economic situation on "external forces" and as the country moved forward "the enjoyment of the people will be further expanded".

Those statements made in the meeting surely did not make any sense compared to the Report of The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Report of the Detailed Findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea which have been launched earlier this year. The report based on the UN-commission investigation documenting atrocities in North Korea and the findings were based on testimony given by North Korean exiles to South Korean and Japanese authorities was put North Korea on the defensive. Its public acknowledgement on Tuesday of the reform camps, and its overture to the EU rights chief, must be signs that Pyongyang had realize its human rights record  because we sure, whatever the truth is, it would not fade away. And the argument of “transition society” could not be an excuse for a country violating its citizens’ human rights.

To remind all of us regarding the Human Rights situation in North Korea, below are extracts from the Report of The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, outlining its main findings regarding arbitrary detention, torture, executions, and prison camps.

  • The police and security forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea systematically employ violence and punishments that amount to gross human rights violations in order to create a climate of fear that pre-empts any challenge to the current system of government and to the ideology underpinning it. The institutions and officials involved are not held accountable. Impunity reigns.
  • Gross human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea involving detention, executions and disappearances are characterized by a high degree of centralized coordination between different parts of the extensive security apparatus. The State Security Department, the Ministry of People’s Security and the Korean People’s Army Military Security Command regularly subject persons accused of political crimes to arbitrary arrest and subsequent incommunicado detention for prolonged periods of time. Their families are not informed of their fate or whereabouts. Persons accused of political crimes therefore become victims of enforced disappearance. Making the suspect disappear is a deliberate feature of the system that serves to instil fear in the population.
  • The use of torture is an established feature of the interrogation process in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, especially in cases involving political crimes. Starvation and other inhumane conditions of detention are deliberately imposed on suspects to increase the pressure on them to confess and to incriminate other persons.
  • Persons who are found to have engaged in major political crimes are “disappeared”, without trial or judicial order, to political prison camps (kwanliso). There, they are incarcerated and held incommunicado. Their families are not even informed of their fate if they die. In the past, it was common that the authorities sent entire families to political prison camps for political crimes committed by close relatives (including forebears, to the third generation) on the basis of the principle of guilt by association. Such cases still occur, but appear to be less frequent now than in past decades.
  • In the political prison camps of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the inmate population has been gradually eliminated through deliberate starvation, forced labour, executions, torture, rape and the denial of reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide. The commission estimates that hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have perished in these camps over the past five decades. The unspeakable atrocities that are being committed against inmates of the kwanliso political prison camps resemble the horrors of camps that totalitarian States established during the twentieth century.
  • Although the authorities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea deny the existence of the camps, this claim was shown to be false by the testimonies of former guards, inmates and neighbours. Satellite imagery proves that the camp system continues to be in operation. While the number of political prison camps and inmates has decreased owing to deaths and some releases, it is estimated that between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are currently detained in four large political prison camps.
  • Gross violations are also being committed in the ordinary prison system, which consists of ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso) and various types of short-term forced labour detention facilities. The vast majority of inmates are victims of arbitrary detention, since they are imprisoned without trial or on the basis of a trial that fails to respect the due process and fair trial guarantees set out in international law. Furthermore, many ordinary prisoners are, in fact, political prisoners, who are detained without a substantive reason compatible with international law. Prisoners in the ordinary prison system are systematically subjected to deliberate starvation and illegal forced labour. Torture, rape and other arbitrary cruelties at the hands of guards and fellow prisoners are widespread and committed with impunity.
  • As a matter of State policy, the authorities carry out executions, with or without trial, publicly or secretly, in response to political and other crimes that are often not among the most serious crimes. The policy of regularly carrying out public executions serves to instil fear in the general population. Public executions were most common in the 1990s. However, they continue to be carried out today. In late 2013, there appeared to be a spike in the number of politically motivated public executions.
  • Through this letter, we urge you (and your institution) to play important role as international solidarity in responding to what happening in North Korea. We strongly recommend all of the recipients of this letter to immediately conduct a prompt and effective action to urge the authorities in North Korea to stop denying human rights violations in North Korea and ensure that those most responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in North Korea to be held accountable; because the unimaginable suffering and atrocities happening in North Korea cannot wait any longer.

Jakarta, October 10, 2014

Haris Azhar
Executive Coordinator of KontraS

*For further information please contact Ms.Ninies ( or through KontraS Secretariat (