U.N.: N. Korea puts disabled in camps


UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The North Korean government rounds up disabled people and sends them away from the capital Pyongyang to special camps, where they are sorted by their handicap and subjected to "subhuman conditions," a recently released U.N. report said.

Author Vitit Muntarbhorn, special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, cited reports from defectors who said the mentally disabled are sent to camps known as "Ward 49." Other camps exist for dwarfs, who may marry but are barred from having children.

"To date, the situation facing those with disabilities has presented a very disconcerting picture," Muntarbhorn wrote in the report detailing what he said were rampant human rights abuses in North Korea.

Those violations include torture, refusal to give food aid to citizens and harsh punishment of those trying to flee the country, according to the report, released last Thursday.

Muntarbhorn has repeatedly written to the North Korean government about numerous concerns and has asked to be allowed into the country. The government has typically responded that it does not recognize his mandate and will not communicate with him -- or allow him to visit.

As a result, much of the evidence he relied on for his conclusions was drawn from reports compiled by other sources. The finding that North Korea was putting away the disabled was published by the Korea Institute for National Unification, a South Korean government think tank, in a 2005 report that got little international attention.

Citing that report, Muntarbhorn said the disabled are sent to camps and sorted according to their physical deformity or handicap.

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

"North Korean authorities are practicing merciless discrimination against handicapped persons," the institute's report said.

Muntarbhorn's report detailed other rights violations against women, the elderly and children. It said that women who get pregnant with non-Koreans when they flee the country are subject to discrimination or violence if they are brought back "with dire impact on the babies or children of the relationship."

Family members of people who are seen as opponents of the North Korean government are often punished along with their relatives and it is illegal to listen to foreign radio broadcasts or own a computer without permission, Muntarbhorn said in the report.

Muntarbhorn, a Thai specialist in human rights law, made some of the same points in a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council last month.

He said then he had seen "reports of a wide range of detention centers 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.

2006-11-10 00:00:00


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