A North Korean diplomat speaking before reporters insisted that North Korea does not have prisons or “things like that,” but confirmed publicly for the first time the existence of “re-education through labor” camps in the isolated communist nation.
The Associated Press reports that the admission occurred during a press briefing related to a human rights report released by North Korea lauding North Korea’s human rights efforts. In that report, the government of the communist country claimed that North Korea has the world’s “most advantageous” human rights system, defining human rights largely in the context of living outside of the rule of the Japanese, who gave Koreans a “miserable life worse than a dog of a family having a funeral.”
During the briefing, North Korean Foreign Ministry official Choe Myong Nam claimed that North Korea has no prison camps, “no prison, things like that.” He did admit, however, that there were labor camps in the nation: “Both in law and practice, we do have reform through labor detention camps — no, detention centers — where people are improved through their mentality and look on their wrongdoings.” Choe is directly responsible for UN affairs for North Korea, as well as human rights affairs.
The public admission that labor camps exist is a first for a North Korean official, reports the AP. The existence of the camps have long been documented, through witness testimony from former prisoners, as well as other reports. In February, the United Nations released an extensive report detailing the human rights abuses occurring in those labor camps and elsewhere in North Korea. At least four operational camps are in North Korea, the report claimed, housing between 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners. Many of these prisoners are prisoners of conscience, sent to be “re-educated” rather than punished for any malicious crime: outrageous acts of torture, such as the use of needles to put pressure under fingernails, forced abortions, sexual crimes, and, commonly, executions without due process.
The admission of labor camps follows weeks of speculation about the health of its dictator, Kim Jong-un. Kim has not been seen publicly since September 3, prompting speculation that he may be struggling with severe health problems or is no longer in charge of the country. Experts note that such an absence is “unprecedented,” even with the government claiming that Kim is suffering from “discomfort.” The speculations are merely rumors, as no actual proof has surfaced that Kim has been replaced.