SEOUL, South Korea – A U.N. human rights investigator accused North Korean authorities Monday of committing widespread torture in prisons that he called "death traps."
Life in the reclusive communist-ruled country is "dire and desperate," said Vitit Muntarbhorn, adding that people are denied enough food to survive.
Muntarbhorn told the 47-nation Human Rights Council that whole families are routinely sent away for the crimes of one member. Once imprisoned, they suffer greatly.
"Many prisons are a death trap for the inmates," he said.
Sang Il Hun of North Korea's U.N. mission told the council that the report was untrue.
He said Muntarbhorn's report was the result of the "hostile policy" of the United States toward his country and the politicization of human rights by the European Union.
Muntarbhorn, who has investigated North Korea for five years but never gained entry, consulted with U.N. agencies working in North Korea and human rights groups outside. He said the government was also torturing people outside official prisons in interrogations or other places of detention.
Muntarbhorn also spoke with North Korean refugees in South Korea, Japan and Mongolia in preparing his report.
"The abhorrent prison conditions, including lack of food, poor hygiene, freezing conditions in winter time, forced labor and corporal punishment, result in a myriad of abuses and deprivations," Muntarbhorn said.
"Although torture is prohibited by law, it is extensively practiced," the unpaid Thai law professor told the U.N. body that assigned him to report on North Korea.
North Korea is routinely described in U.N. and other reports as one of the world's most repressive regimes. Its economy is shattered and its people have suffered through years of hunger, even as iron-fisted leader Kim Jong Il has focused the country's limited resources on building the military and its nuclear and missile programs.