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N Korean justice system treats people ‘less than animals’: HRW

Seoul: Torture, humiliation and coerced confessions are rampant in North Korea’s pretrial detention system which treats people as worth “less than an animal,” a rights group said in a report on the country’s opaque legal processes.

US-based Human Rights Watch drew on interviews with dozens of former North Korean detainees and officials to highlight what it called inhuman conditions at detention facilities that often amount to torture.

Nuclear-armed North Korea, accused of widespread rights abuses by the United Nations and other critics, is a “closed” country and little is known about its criminal justice system.

Mistreatment of detainees — beating with a stick or kicking — was “especially harsh” in the early stages of pretrial detention, interviewees said.

“The regulations say there shouldn’t be any beatings, but we need confessions during the investigation and early stages of the preliminary examination,” a former police officer said.

Former detainees said they were forced to sit still on the floor, kneeling or with their legs crossed, for as long as 16 hours a day, with even a flicker of movement leading to punishment.

The punishments ranged from hitting — using hands, sticks, or leather belts — to forcing them to run in circles around a yard up to 1,000 times.

“If I or others moved (in the cell), the guards would order me or all the cellmates to extend our hands through the cell bars and would step on them repeatedly with their boots,” said former detainee Park Ji Cheol.

Kim Sun Young, a former trader in her 50s who fled North Korea in 2015 said she had been raped by her interrogator at a detention centre.

The report called on Pyongyang to “end endemic torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in detention” and urged South Korea, the United States and other UN member states to “publicly and privately pressure the North Korean government.”

Pyongyang maintains that it protects and promotes “genuine human rights,” and says there is no justification for the West to try to set human rights standards for the rest of the world.

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