An icy Tumen river forms the border between China and North Korea, 2009. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Tumen River forms part of the border between China and North Korea. (Photo: World Watch Monitor, 2009)

North Korea’s president, Kim Jong-un, and top officials should be held accountable for committing “crimes against humanity” in prison camps in the country, three international jurists said earlier this week.

They called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to establish a special tribunal to prosecute the country’s leaders.

The jurists’ report, an unofficial follow up of the UN’s 2014 investigation and based on testimonies from defectors and experts on the camps, cited “evidence of systematic murder, including infanticide, and torture, persecution of Christians, rape, forced abortions, starvation and overwork leading to ‘countless deaths’”, as AP reported.

The camps are said to hold between 80,000 and 100,000 prisoners, many of whom are relatives of people accused of committing political offences.

Thomas Buergenthal, one of the three jurists, who formerly served on the ICC and as a youth survived Auschwitz, said: “I believe that the conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps and in my long professional career in the human rights field.”

North Korea denies any wrongdoing, blaming “hostile forces” for fabricating “non-existent” human rights issues.

China builds refugee camps for North Koreans

Meanwhile, China has started to build refugee camps along the North Korean border, according to a leaked report from telecoms company China Mobile, which had been tasked with ensuring a viable communications infrastructure in the area.

Camps in Changbai county and Jilin province will be ready to house hundred thousands of refugees.

China’s traditional policy on North Korea has been to tread carefully, fearing the nation’s collapse and a flood of economic refugees crossing the border into China.

However, China is acutely aware of increased tensions between North Korea and the US, as well as South Korea, following a number of North Korean ballistic missile tests.