By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
SEOUL/PYONGYANG (BosNewsLife)– Christian rights activists used the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War on Saturday, July 27, to express concern over the plight of at least hundreds of thousands of Christians and other inmates in ”political prison camps” across North Korea.
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said at least 200,000 people are detained in five such camps across the country.
“On this 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, CSW calls attention to the appalling human rights violations committed every day by the North Korean regime against its own people, including Christians who are particularly targeted for their faith,” said CSW’s Team Leader for East Asia, Benedict Rogers, told BosNewsLife.
Previously Christian aid and advocacy group Open Doors suggested that the real number of prisoners in dozens of facilities resembling concentration camps may be as high as over one million.
“The camps are complete villages,” said the Open Doors North Korea director who was only identified as ‘Brother Simon’ apparently for security reasons. Yet, despite the threat of detention and even execution thousands of Christians continue to worship in secret, rights investigators say.
CSW’s latest report about camp inmates came while in Pyongyang, the police state’s capital, goose-stepping soldiers, columns of tanks and a broad array of ominous-looking missiles poised on mobile launchers paraded through the main square in what observers called “a painstakingly choreographed military pageant” intended to strike fear into North Korea’s adversaries.
The marching was seen as trying to rally people behind young ruler Kim Jong Un on the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War.
CSW also expressed concern over rising tensions in the region. “The Korean War ended on 27 July 1953, having claimed the lives of three million Koreans including many civilians. However, the war ended in an armistice, not a permanent peace, and the Korean peninsula is technically still at war between North and South,” the group added in a statement to BosNewsLife.
“North Korean people continue to suffer under a brutal regime with one of the worst human rights records in the world.”
CSW quoted defectors as saying that 70 percent of prisoners are “severely malnourished”and that “torture, rape and public executions are common.” Outside the camps, the government’s strict control over resources, combined with bad harvests, storms and flooding, have resulted in widespread starvation and malnutrition, according to international investigators.
“Every year thousands of North Koreans try to escape over the border into China. Many female border crossers are victims of human trafficking. However, China does not recognize North Koreans as refugees and regularly repatriates men, women and children to North Korea where they face imprisonment, torture and death,” CSW said.
In May 2013, nine North Koreans, including at least one child, were reportedly deported from Laos to China and were repatriated from there to North Korea, despite international protests.
“As a party to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, China…is in violation of its international commitments,” CSW said.”We call on China, Laos and other transit countries to recognize North Korean defectors as refugees and to give them access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).”
The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), which includes CSW and some 40 other human rights groups, has campaigned for an investigation into rights abuses in the Communist-run nation. The action resulted in a resolution, adopted by the UN Human Rights Council this year, that established a Commission of Inquiry “to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights” in North Korea.
Britain-based CSW said it also supports a campaign to launch BBC World Service radio broadcasts for North Korea. The British broadcaster reportedly said that it is interested but looking for resources at a time of massive cuts within the organization.