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North Korea threatens US – what about its own people?

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Previous commissions of inquiry include that for the killings in the Darfur region of Sudan, which led to a recommendation to the UN Security Council that the case be referred to the International Criminal Court. That resulted in a warrant for the arrest of Sudan’s leader Omar al-Bashir. Other examples include Syria, where it was concluded that war crimes and crimes against humanity are taking place, and Burundi, Rwanda, and Libya.

A commission of inquiry does not necessarily stop the violations or lead to the perpetrators being brought to justice, but it does at the very least focus the glaring light of the UN on a situation, something long overdue in North Korea.

In North Korean society at large, a climate of fear and total control pervades. One small step out of line, often inadvertent, can land you in one of the notorious prison camps, often ending in death.

Mistakes as simple as sitting on an old newspaper that contains a picture of one of the North Korean leaders from the Kim family – past or present – can result in horrific torture or years in the camps. So, too, can a deliberate but small expression of defiance, such as watching a South Korean DVD, listening to foreign radio broadcasts, or possessing a Bible.

An estimated 200,000 people are in the prison camps. Even at the worst times in Myanmar (Burma), a country which came close to rivalling North Korea in oppression, there were only about 2,000 political prisoners. Unlike in Myanmar, where there were dissidents who actively chose to oppose the regime, most of North Korea’s detainees are not “political” at all.

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