U.N. chief urges N. Korea to release all political prisoners

SEOUL-- U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on North Korea to release all political prisoners, accusing Pyongyang of a series of human rights abuses at prison camps, such as arbitrary arrests, beatings, forced labor and executions.

Guterres made the appeal in a report submitted for the 74th Session of the General Assembly, which is slated to kick off on Sept. 17. The report covers the North's overall human rights situation from September last year to July this year.

"Citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea are arrested and detained for the exercise of their fundamental rights," Guterres said in the report, using the North's official name.

Citing persons who had been detained in Jongori camp in North Hamgyong Province, the report said there may be 3,000 detainees in the prison, with "multiple reports of deaths as a result of starvation."

Illnesses such as tuberculosis and hepatitis are reportedly rife, and there are multiple cases of beatings by prison guards, sometimes resulting in the death of prisoners, it said.

"The arbitrary arrests, beatings, forced labor, executions and other forms of mistreatment and abuse perpetrated by officers in the detention centres and prisons ... appear to be carried out in a widespread and systematic manner," Guterres said.

In the report, the U.N. chief made a series of recommendations urging the North to take steps to improve the country's human rights situation, such as enabling the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to have access to the country for monitoring activities.

North Korea has long been labeled as one of the worst human rights violators. The communist regime does not tolerate dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and keeps tight control over outside information.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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