U.N. Envoy: N. Korea Sends Handicapped to Camps

[Update:   Welcome Powerline readers!]

Since I began blogging about North Korea, one of my core philosophies  has been  that nukes, diplomacy, and human rights aren’t logically separable. That’s because you deal with governments that possess a basic regard for human life differently from those that lack one. Governments in the first category share our desire to preserve life by avoiding war. Governments in the second category seek only to preserve and expand their own power; their motivations are not  like our own. This distinction has been lost on plenty of people who mirror-image the North Koreans as fundamentally reasonable. If this doesn’t tell us just what we’re up against, I don’t know what will.

The North Korean government rounds up disabled people and sends them out of the capital, Pyongyang, to special camps, where they are sorted by handicap and subjected to “subhuman conditions,” the United Nations has reported.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, a special UN rapporteur for human rights in North Korea and the author of the report, cited reports from defectors who said the mentally disabled were sent to camps known as “Ward 49.” Other camps exist for dwarfs, who may marry but are barred from having children.

“To date, the situation facing those with disabilities has presented a very disconcerting picture,” Muntarbhorn wrote in the report detailing what he said were rampant human rights abuses in North Korea. The report was released Thursday.         

Those violations include torture, the refusal to give food aid to citizens and harsh punishments for those trying to flee the country, the report said.         

Emphasis mine. I guess this is just getting hard to deny. The North Koreans refused to let Muntarbhorn in, so he had to rely on reports that rely on the accounts of defectors.

The finding that North Korea was putting away the disabled was published by the Korea Institute for National Unification, a South Korean government organization, in a 2005 report that got little international attention.

Citing that report, Muntarbhorn said the disabled were sent to camps and sorted according to their physical deformity or handicap. “It is reported that those with disabilities are sent away from the capital city,” he wrote, “and particularly those with mental disabilities are detained in areas or camps known as ‘Ward 49’ with harsh and subhuman conditions.”

The institute’s report said: “North Korean authorities are practicing merciless discrimination against handicapped persons.”         

He also discusses the allegations of racial infanticide, although his report substitutes the euphemism, “dire impact on the babies or children of the relationship.” Yes, I suppose rape is a relationship of sorts. He also notes the collective punishment of children along with their parents. It’s all very belated, but I suppose it’s a lot better than what the U.N. has done so far: nothing.

In his graphic novel, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Guy DeLisle wonders where the handicapped people all went. His guides answer that all North Koreans are born strong and healthy. Until North Korea’s camps are opened to the world and our worst fears are proven wrong, we may have our answer. I hope the U.N. will continue its work by giving us answers on two more outstanding allegations: the use of the handicapped (including infants) for biowar experiments, and the killing of political prisoners in gas chambers for chemical weapons testing.

If Ban Ki-Moon is thinking about appointing anyone but Muntarbhorn as a permanent Special Envoy on North Korea, I’d be inclined to suspect a whitewash. Unlike Ban’s colleagues in the South Korean government, Muntarbhorn isn’t willing to give North Korea the benefit of whatever doubts it intentionally creates. North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons is not news. We’ve known it for more than a decade. This is news, because of what it says about just what’s stopping the North Koreans from using them. The answer is: not as much as many assume.

5 Comments

  1. Not to compare apples to oranges, but to compare fruit to fruit:
    The South Koreans send their handicapped away too. I have been here for 8 straight years and I rarely see anyone you’d think was handicapped. Deaf or blind children are sent to orphanages and ultimately end up in a sort of endentured servitude to whomever feeds/houses them for the rest of their life doing menial labor. I read a report on this years ago, but have no statistics. I will post a link when I find it. So from here I will go with personal experience.
    There are handicapped parking places and accessable entries all over SK, but you never see anyone using these. And the folks I have seen using the parking spaces don’t appear to me to be in a state I’d call handicapped. I can count on one hand how many SK I have seen in a wheel chair in 8 years. There is a handicapped man who hangs out around a local bus station + for the most part the bus drivers treat him very well, but that is the only openly handicapped person I have seen that wasn’t treated like the plague.
    My point, I guess, is that the SK has a similar (while not as brutal) culture of handling their handicapped and thus would naturally be simpathetic to this type of human rights violation. So I definetly wouldn’t think this was ever going to make Mr. Ban’s “To Do List”.

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