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N Korea puts disabled in camps, UN report says

Evelyn Leopold / Reuters | October 20, 2006

UNITED NATIONS - North Korea locks up the disabled in camps with "harsh and subhuman" conditions, categorising them according to their physical disabilities, a human rights investigator has reported.

Defectors from North Korea have testified "without exception" about the existence of collective camps where the disabled are assigned according to their physical deformity or disability.

The report, citing a South Korean human rights study, said as an example: "Midgets are not allowed to reproduce and they are rounded up and relocated."

Viti Muntarbhorn of Thailand, a human rights law specialist, wrote the survey for the UN General Assembly, which may adopt a resolution based on his findings.

He relied on information from outside the country after Pyongyang refused to allow him to visit.

"It is reported that those with disabilities are sent away from the capital city, and particularly those with mental disability are detained in areas or camps known as 'Ward 49' with harsh and subhuman conditions," Muntarbhorn wrote.

Among other major human rights violations, the report said women close to the ruling elite were in a good position to get jobs. But other women floundered, especially those seen as "enemies of the regime".

Those women are banished or sent to detention centres, sometimes as collective punishment because their relatives were alleged to be hostile to the government.

Korean women who get pregnant with other ethnic groups, such as Chinese, may be subjected to violence "with dire impact on the babies or children of the relationship", the report said.

Testimony from defectors as well as other studies showed a "wide range of detention centres and prisons with appalling conditions and use of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, despite a ban on such practices under the country's law," Muntarbhorn said.

The UN investigator said North Korea repeatedly denied abducting South Koreans, Japanese and even Thais, details of which were presented earlier to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

An estimated 489 South Koreans have been seized, most of them more than 20 years ago, the report said.


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