North Korean pretrial detention system ‘arbitrary, violent,’ HRW says

Seoul, Oct 19 (efe-epa).- North Korea’s pretrial detention system is arbitrary, lacks due process, and is violent and torturous, the non-profit Human Rights Watch detailed Monday in a report based on interviews with former detainees.

The report, entitled “‘Worth Less Than An Animal’: Abuses and Due Process Violations in Pretrial Detention in North Korea,” highlights gaps in the country’s penal system and legal framework, resulting in widespread and systematic torture of arrestees.

“North Korea’s pretrial detention and investigation system is arbitrary, violent, cruel, and degrading,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.

“North Koreans say they live in constant fear of being caught in a system where official procedures are usually irrelevant, guilt is presumed, and the only way out is through bribes and connections,” he added in a statement.

Through interviews with dozens of North Koreans – former government officials who have fled the country or people who had been held in detention or interrogation facilities – the report describes procedures and abuses that occur from arrest to the holding of a trial (or not), as well as the inhumane conditions endured by prisoners, some of whom do not survive.

The use of kicking, punching or sticks to hit detainees is widespread among investigators (to force a confession) or prison guards, who make “systematic use of stress positions,” as highlighted Monday in the online presentation of the report by HRW Deputy Asia Director, Phil Robertson.

Guards force prisoners to spend days in these same uncomfortable positions, according to the report, which notes that if a prisoner moves, either the offender alone or the rest of the group will be punished.

Once a person is arrested, they have no access to an independent lawyer, no way of appealing against torture or violations, and little chance of avoiding a sentence of unpaid forced labor, HRW says.

The report also highlights that “some female detainees reported sexual harassment and assault, including rape.”

The detainees are also crammed into cells with unhygienic conditions, insufficient food and no heating to withstand the freezing North Korean winter, which can sometimes reach minus 20 degrees Celsius.

The report makes a series of recommendations to the regime to “end endemic torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in pretrial detention and interrogation facilities.” EFE-EPA


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