US Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced a resolution (S.Res.481) denouncing North Korea’s labor camps, condemning the country’s human rights abuses, and calling upon Kim Jong-un to release all political prisoners.
“North Korea’s labor camp system is a crime against humanity,” Hatch said. “It is the duty of the United States—and of every country of conscience—to stand up and stand together in voicing our collective condemnation of these horrors. Our actions will send a clear message to Mr. Kim that the world will not tolerate such savagery.”
“We must stand united in condemning and calling attention to North Korea’s widespread use of torture and disregard for human life,” said Cortez Masto. “There is ample evidence that systemic human rights abuses have endured under Kim Jong-un’s regime. We cannot sit idly by as tens of thousands of people are subjected to barbaric and inhumane treatment. As we focus first and foremost on bringing an end to North Korea’s nuclear program, it is our duty to not forget about the people of North Korea. We must continue to work with the international community to pressure the North Korean government to cease its horrendous treatment of political prisoners and end its labor camps once and for all.”
“North Korea’s atrocious human rights record should not be pushed aside as we continue a maximum pressure campaign to achieve the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” said Gardner. “The landmark North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, which passed last Congress, strongly condemned Pyongyang’s continued human rights abuses and mandated sanctions against the regime, resulting in the designation of Kim Jong Un and other senior officials as human rights abusers under U.S. law. Through resolutions such as this one, we must continue to apply pressure on Kim Jong Un and raise the issue of human rights at every turn.”
“As the United States enters into discussions with North Korea about denuclearization, we must also expose their atrocious record of human rights abuses,” said Van Hollen. “Now more than ever, it’s time to hold North Korea accountable for its brutal system of forced labor.”
Statements of Support:
David Shedd, former Acting Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency:
“The despotic North Korean regime currently led by dictator Kim Jong-un has silenced all political dissent by sending countless North Korean citizens and illegally detained foreigners to concentration camps where widespread use of torture is used, including intentional starvation. Tens of thousands have ultimately died under the barbaric conditions that Kim Jong-un has created and who, like his father and grandfather before him in the Kim dynasty, must be held directly accountable by the international community. Bolstered by an all-pervasive propaganda machine aimed at enforcing absolute control over the 25 million citizens of North Korea, the despotic actions of Kim have resulted in epic levels of human rights violations. This bipartisan ‘beacon on a hill’legislation is a keen and stark reminder that all talks with the North Korean regime concerning denuclearization must be accompanied with a clear and unequivocal message to Kim that his systematic violation of even the most basic human rights of the North Korean people is abhorrent and that his direct role in human rights abuses must cease immediately.”
Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director, Committee for Human Rights in North Korea:
“The resolution brings much-needed attention to North Korea’s heart of darkness, including its vast system of unlawful imprisonment, where prisoners are subjected to relentless forced labor, induced malnutrition, and treatment amounting to crimes against humanity.”
Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations:
“This resolution calls our attention to one of the greatest evils on the face of the earth, the brutal North Korean labor camp and prison system. Demanding international action and more work by the US Government, it comes at exactly the right moment: the regime may want to come out of its isolation and the price we demand must include stopping these gruesome violations of human rights.”
Often lost amid the policy discussions in Washington is North Korea’s brutal – indeed, criminal – record of human rights abuses. Of particular concern is the country’s labor camp prison system, which currently houses some 80,000-120,000 political prisoners. Over the years, hundreds of thousands have died in these prison camps, working under barbaric conditions that include slave labor, starvation, torture, executions, rape, and forced abortions. Innocent citizens are routinely incarcerated under spurious charges or even with no justification altogether. The North Korean government continues to deny the existence of these labor camps and has not allowed their inspection.
Following on President Trump’s announcement that he would accept an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, this resolution reminds the international community and Mr. Kim that we neither forgive nor forget the North Korean government’s disregard for human life. Moreover, this resolution holds the Kim regime accountable for its manifold human rights abuses.
The resolution calls on the North Korean government to:
- Immediately cease human rights abuses.
- Release all political prisoners.
- Halt the ongoing arrests of North Koreans on political and religious grounds.
- Allow the International Committee of the Red Cross entry into the camps to assist with the release and rehabilitation of prisoners.
- Allow entry to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea to monitor the situation and assist with the rehabilitation.
- Comply with international standards of food distribution and monitoring and allow full access to international humanitarian agencies.
In addition, the resolution calls on the United States Government to:
- Continue to pursue any additional sanctions to the extent possible against those individuals responsible for the North Korean labor camp system, including individuals administering such labor camps.
- Continue to raise awareness in the international community of the labor camps and the continuing atrocious crimes being committed in the labor camps.
The Resolution is a Senate companion to H.Res. 763, introduced by Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX 11th District) and Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA 11th District).