Torture, humiliation and coerced confessions are rampant in North Koreaâ€™s pretrial detention system which treats people as worth â€œless than an animalâ€�, a rights group said Monday in a report on the countryâ€™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 â€œclosedâ€� country and little is known about its criminal justice system.
Mistreatment of detainees â€” beating with a stick or kicking â€” was â€œespecially harshâ€� in the early stages of pretrial detention, interviewees said.
â€œThe regulations say there shouldnâ€™t be any beatings, but we need confessions during the investigation and early stages of the preliminary examination,â€� a former police officer said.
â€œSo you have to hit them in order to get the confession.â€�
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 â€” using hands, sticks, or leather belts â€” to forcing them to run in circles around a yard up to 1,000 times.
â€œIf 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,â€� said former detainee Park Ji Cheol.
Yoon Young Cheol, another former detainee, added: â€œThere, you are just treated like you are worth less than an animal, and thatâ€™s what you end up becoming.â€�
Some female interviewees testified to rampant sexual violence at the facilities.
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.
Another police officer sexually assaulted her by touching her underneath her clothes while interrogating her, Kim added, but said she had been â€œpowerless to resistâ€�.
The report called on Pyongyang to â€œend endemic torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in detentionâ€� and urged South Korea, the United States and other UN member states to â€œpublicly and privately pressure the North Korean governmentâ€�.
The country already stands accused by the UN of â€œsystematic, widespread and grossâ€� human rights violations that range from torture, extrajudicial killings to running prison camps.
Pyongyang maintains that it protects and promotes â€œgenuine human rightsâ€�, and says there is no justification for the West to try to set human rights standards for the rest of the world.
It condemns international criticism on the issue as a smear campaign to undermine its â€œsacred socialist systemâ€�.
Â© Agence France-Presse