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North Korea agenda needs to include prison camps, analyst says

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Eliminating nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula is a strategic goal that almost everyone in the world endorses.

It’s will be the top subject when President Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next Tuesday.

But an analyst in international crime and human rights at the Heritage Foundation says the rogue nation’s prisons camps should also get scrutiny.

“If the U.S. is prepared to call for complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program, it should also be prepared to call for complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of its vast system of prison camps,” wrote Olivia Enos.

She said the June 12 meeting in Singapore is an opportunity to “raise concerns about North Korea’s human rights abuses, especially those in prison camps.”

According to the best estimates available, North Korea has 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners in the camps, and they are part of the reason the communist nation every year ranks among the worst in the world for human rights abuses.

Enos noted the Kim regime denies the existence of political prison camps, but defector testimony and satellite imagery confirm their existence.

And the U.S. has known about them for decades.

“It was a bold gesture by the Trump administration to accept the invitation from Pyongyang to meet. Raising human rights issues at the summit would be yet another bold move, but not one that would automatically derail discussions on denuclearization, as is often assumed by U.S. diplomats. The time for bold gestures is now.”

North Korea not only runs prison camps for criminal offenders, it also has special camps for those “suspected” of political offenses.

“When someone is suspected of political crimes, three generations of his or her family are often sent to the camps due to guilt by association,” her report said.

Worse yet, the prisons are known to include “murder, extermination, enslavement, forcible transfer, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts.”

“The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea estimates that more than 400,000 people have perished in North Korea’s prison camps. Many die from malnutrition and harsh working conditions, but others are brutally executed in front of other prisoners either on a whim or for disobeying camp authorities.”

The report said some prisoners are killed “just to demonstrate that the regime has the authority to take any life.”

The worldwide Christian community has been aware of the camps for years, and the Heritage report confirmed the worst fears.

“Many North Koreans are brutally murdered for mere possession of a Bible. The alternative is being sent to a political prison camp for engaging in religious activities not sanctioned by the state, which include praying, singing hymns, or reading the Bible.”

Kim Jong Un has proved “no less brutal than his father or grandfather,” the report said.

Resolutions in Congress and various reports call for the closure of the camps, but many have been concerned “that raising politically sensitive issues could derail other agenda items or might subvert the ability to further U.S. national interests or achieve U.S. national security goals.”

“This could not be further from the truth,” the report said.

In fact, Kim Jong Un “may be persuaded that it is in his interest to eliminate political prison camps in order to gain legitimacy in the international community,” the report said.

That’s why the U.S. should make the prison camps an issue at the summit, the report said.

“It serves U.S. interests on the nuclear front to highlight political prison camps because the threat of being sent to a prison camp helped create the acquiescent population in North Korea that permits the continued development of missile and nuclear weapons. The U.S. should consider calling for the closure of one or more political prison camps as an incremental step toward CVID of the camps. North Korea’s nuclear program will not be dismantled overnight, and the U.S. should not expect the political prison camp system to be eliminated overnight either. Critically, any promise of closure must involve verification that prisoners from one camp were not merely transferred to another camp, as was the case with China’s re-education through labor facilities,” the report said.

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