• Reading Level 5
History | Geography | Citizenship | PSHE

Yes, we have labour camps, admits North Korea

With this admission, the secretive dictatorship seems to be on ‘a charm offensive’, says the UN human rights monitor. But is this a genuine thaw in relations with the outside world? North Korea is one of the world's most secretive and hostile countries. Known as the hermit kingdom, the country is sealed off from the outside world, with strict controls on visitors and tight controls on information coming in or out. But this week has seen a small breakthrough, after top North Korean officials held a rare briefing at the United Nations on the state of the country's human rights. It came in the wake of a damning UN reportThe scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that climate change was becoming inevitable and irreversible. published in February on the shocking human rights abuses in North Korea. In the course of a year, a specially appointed commission heard harrowing testimonies from those who had escaped the regime's authoritarian clutches. The report found, among other horrors, that those accused of political crimes are 'disappeared' to prison camps, and subject to deliberate starvation, forced labour, executions, torture and rape. North Korea has always denied that such camps exist, though satellite photographs show vast, sinister camp-like structures, where it is estimated that 120,000 to 200,000 prisoners are held in appalling conditions. But this week a top North Korean official finally acknowledged the use of labour camps to 'reform' detainees. He insisted they were not prison camps, but 'detention centres' for people to 'improve their mentality' and 'look on their wrongdoings'. Experts have noted recent changes in the regime. It has been 18 months since North Korea's last major provocation, a nuclear test in February 2013. Since then, the usually belligerent country has been surprisingly quiet. And at the beginning of the month, officials even met with their South Korean counterparts - a rare occurrence for the two warring neighbours. Even more curious is the absence of the country's leader Kim Jong-unThe leader of North Korea since 2011. , who has not been seen in public since the beginning of September. Some say the leader is in poor health, others that there has been a coup. But no one knows for sure. A change of heart? Do not be fooled, some experts warn; this is a carefully-coordinated damage limitation exercise. The UN report will soon be discussed in the UN General Assembly, and North Korea realises its human rights record will not simply fade away. Their plan is to divide and weaken international pressure. Despite these glimmers of hope, North Korea's abysmal treatment of its people will continue. But this could mark a real turning point in relations between North Korea and the rest of the world, others say. The very fact that officials are willing to discuss human rights is important. Any dialogue offers the possibility of negotiation and further engagement. For its people's sake, we should take every opportunity to bring North Korea in from the cold. KeywordsUN report - The scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that climate change was becoming inevitable and irreversible.

Continue Reading

The Day is an independent, online, subscription-based news publication for schools, focussing on the big global issues beneath the headlines. Our dedicated newsroom writes news, features, polls, quizzes, translations… activities to bring the wider world into the classroom. Through the news we help children and teachers develop the thinking, speaking and writing skills to build a better world. Our stories are a proven cross-curricular resource published at five different reading levels for ages 5 to 19. The Day has a loyal and growing membership in over 70 countries and its effectiveness is supported by case studies and teacher endorsements.

Start your free trial Already have an account? Log in / register