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North Korea workers sent abroad for forced labor, says UN expert

The UN's expert on North Korea has said that thousands of its citizens are sent to work in foreign countries for wages that end up in government coffers. Their work is earning Pyongyang billions, says Marzuki Darusman.

A UN rights expert said on Wednesday that Pyongyang was increasingly sending its citizens to work abroad in slave-like conditions in order to earn hard currency. Some 50,000 North Koreans have been sent to foreign countries, usually China and Russia, said UN special rapporteur Marzuki Darusman.

"DPRK nationals have been sent to work in many parts of the world, laboring under conditions that amount to a subjection to forced labor, both by their own and host governments," Darusman said, warning that countries where these workers are employed "become complicit in an unacceptable system."

Forced labors earning billions

Presenting his annual report to the General Assembly, which is set this year to adopt a resolution condemning North Korea's human rights record, Darusman said the forced labor of North Koreans amounted to some $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion per year for Pyongyang.

The overseas work is negotiated by Pyongyang, Darusman said, and laborers are not told about the details of their contracts. They are then sent abroad, not only to Russia and China but also countries like Kuwait and Poland, to work in industries such as construction, mining, logging, and textile manufacturing.

Earlier this year, a Qatari construction company sent some 90 North Koreans back to their homeland, after they had been forced by their supervisors to work 12 hours a day and given little food.

Darusman said it was apparent that Pyongyang imposes a "near-total denial of human rights," on its citizens.

The special rapporteur then renewed his call for the UN to refer the North Korean government to the International Criminal Court, a move which would likely be blocked by ally China if it were to move forward.

es/bw (AFP, dpa)

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