Saturday, 7 September 2013

Human rights group: Thousands of N. Korean prisoners 'disappeared' from gulag

Tens of thousands of North Korean prisoners have “disappeared” from an enormous gulag situated in a region where there were known food shortages, prompting fears that they may have starved to death before it closed last year, according to a human rights think tank.

Camp 22, a vast labor camp that sprawled across 700 square miles –- making it larger than Los Angeles –- used to hold around 30,000 prisoners, the Washington, D.C.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) said in an August report entitled, "North Korea's Hidden Gulag: Interpreting Reports of Changes in the Prison Camps."

But that dwindled to only 3,000 in the months before its closure at the end of 2012, it said. At around the same time there were reported food shortages in the area, raising the possibility that large numbers of inmates starved to death, according to investigators from HRNK.

Defectors told them that as many as 8,000 prisoners may have been transferred to other camps, leaving a shortfall of up to 22,000 -- and there are no suggestions that any inmates were released, according to the report.

"North Korea's 2009 currency devaluation (whereby camp authorities were reportedly unable to purchase food in markets to supplement the crops grown in the camps), combined with bad harvests, resulted in the death of large numbers of prisoners after 2010," it said.

The report details the situation in penal colonies called kwan-li-so -- literally translated as “managed places” -- as Kim Jong Un consolidated his power after taking over as leader from his father, Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011.

HRNK, which gathers information from defectors, including former guards and survivors of prison camps, as well as examining satellite imagery, is demanding an inquiry into the fate of the prisoners.

"If even remotely accurate, this is an atrocity requiring much closer investigation," concluded the report's author David Hawk, a former United Nations human rights official and executive director of Amnesty International USA.

HRNK co-chair Roberta Cohen echoed his appeal. "An accounting of the fate and whereabouts of all of North Korea’s political prisoners, including those missing and those who have died in detention should be of highest priority to the U.N. commission of inquiry and the entire international community,” she said in a statement.

"International arrangements should be negotiated for the entry of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) into the camps,” she said.

Prisoners at Camp 22 mined coal that was shipped to the Chongjin thermal power plant to provide electricity for the Kimchaek steel mills. The camp also had extensive collective farm areas for growing corn, potatoes, beans and numerous vegetables, according to the report.

But while satellite imagery shows that some activity farming and mining activity remains in the area, it stated that it is considerably smaller than in years gone by.

The report disclosed that two camps have been closed in the past year but that up to 130,000 individuals are still being held in penal labor colonies.

"They are deemed 'wrong-thinkers', 'wrongdoers', or those who have acquired 'wrong knowledge' or have engaged in 'wrong associations,'" it said.

"Through this vast system of unlawful imprisonment, the North Korean regime isolates, banishes, punishes and executes those suspected of being disloyal to the regime," the report added.

Detainees are "relentlessly subjected to malnutrition, forced labor, and to other cruel and unusual punishment", the report said, with thousands more forcibly held in other detention facilities.

Some are held under the yeonjwa-je system, a “three generation, collective punishment system,” which can see children held because of the “real, suspected or imagined” political disloyalty of the grandfathers or fathers.

Activists say that as many as 40 percent of the male, female and child inmates die of malnutrition, while others succumb to disease, sexual violence, torture, abuse by the guards or are worked to death. Some are required to work for up to 16 hours a day in dangerous conditions, often in mines or logging camps.

Saturday 7 September 2013

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70 years ago: The deadliest disaster in Houston's history, the Gulf Hotel Fire

On the night of September 7, 1943 a fire broke out in a delapidated rooming house called the Gulf Hotel, located in Houston, Texas and inhabited by at least 185 registered persons and transients.

Fifty-five individuals perished in the smoke, flames and confusion as a rapidly moving fire consumed the interior of the building.

Poor exit signage, inadequate lighting of egress points and lack of any alarm system to awaken those asleep led to the high loss of life. External fire escapes were difficult to access.

Poor housekeeping conditions and congestion both hampered escape and fed the fire.

The exact cause of the fire is not entirely certain. A tenant inadvertently started a fire on his mattress around midnight with a cigarette.

This fire was doused but the linen was apparently still smoldering when it was carelessly discarded in a basket in the linen room.

It was discovered later that highly flammable insecticide was also stored in that linen room. The fire department investigation concluded that the fire did in fact start there.

Testimony from the inquiry led investigators to suspect that the walls and partitions of the building became saturated with this insecticide over the course of many years of regular use. This materially helped the rapid spread of the fire as well.

Saturday 7 September 2013

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The Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) wraps up Cebu ferry investigation, temporary burial of unidentified requested

br> Three weeks after the tragic sea accident in Lauis Ledge, the Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) has wrapped up its investigation.

As of yesterday the total casualties of the ship collision has risen to 114 while 23 are still missing.

An official of 2Go Travel, owner of the ill-fated MV St. Thomas Aquinas said that the vessel which would siphon off the remain fuel of the ship will arrive from Japan today.

Lt. Johonsan Fabilane, a member of the SBMI told Cebu Daily News that they have wrapped up the fact finding mission yesterday. “We are now in the process of drafting the recommendations,” Fabilane said.

After the SBMI’s recommendations are finalized, it will be submitted to the Board of Marine Inquiry chaired by Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commandant Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena, who in turn will submit it to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.


Meanwhile, the undertakers that were given temporary custody of the recovered unidentified remains of the ill-fated ship’s passengers has asked the Cebu City government to allow them to temporarily bury bodies.

Cosmopolitan Funeral Homes manager Bong Ebo said they have identified 64 of the retrieved bodies, 50 are still unidentified. Sixty-one of the identified bodies have also been given to their families and relatives.

Identified through their dental records yesterday were two crewmembers of the MV St. Thomas Aquinas, 29 year old Melanie Diaz and 22 year old Gerald Briones.

Ebo added that they are not asking the Cebu City government to allow them to bury the identified victims. “The remaining cadavers which are placed in Cosmopolitan pose a health hazard,” he said.

He however assured that the cadavers will be properly marked for proper exhumation when DNA matching results arrive from the PNP DNA laboratory in Camp Crame.

Members of the Disaster Victim Identification Unit of the PNP Crime Laboratory are still stationed at the building’s lobby. The group is still collecting buccal swabs of the relatives of those who are still missing and unidentified for DNA cross matching.

Two victims who are suffering from broken and misaligned bones in their left shoulder and left foot are still confined in a hospital.

Saturday 7 September 2013

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Uttarakhand tragedy: Over 160 bodies found in Kedar valley in four days

Police teams in flood-hit Uttarakhand have found 71 more bodies in the higher reaches of the Kedar valley which were earlier inaccessible due to bad weather.

Over 160 bodies have been found from the valley in the last four days. All of them will be cremated after DNA tests and post-mortem, the police have said.

According to the police, the bodies seem to be of devotees who went to the jungles after the mid June calamity to save themselves and perished due to extreme cold and hunger there. The area was totally cut off for several days after the floods hit the state on June 15.

About 30 police and NDRF personnel will continue the search operation for the next few days in Junglechatti, Rambada, Gaurigaon and Bheembali areas of the valley where the police expect to find more bodies.

So far, nearly 400 bodies have been cremated in the Kedarnath Valley.

Meanwhile, efforts are on to get the temple complex in Kedarnath ready for the special prayers scheduled for September 11.

The restoration of the temple will begin later this month with an estimated Rs.2.40 crore being spent in the first phase, Culture Minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch said on Friday.

"We are just waiting for the government's nod. Our team is there and is ready to start the work. The restoration work is divided into phases because the winter is upon us and it will hit Uttarakhand after Diwali," the minister said.

"The work will begin only after September 11," she added.

A report by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) accessed the damage to the temple and its premises and said that two working seasons in 10 months would be required for the restoration work.

Saturday 7 September 2013

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Bosnia discovers one of the largest mass graves in the past 10 years

In carrying out the exhumation ordered by the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a large mass grave with the remains of a large number of victims of the genocide near Prijedor (northwestern Bosnia) was discovered today.

This is one of the largest mass graves in the area found in the last 10 years.

''The mass grave was hidden by artificial mounds of the soil. Detailed digging turned up several meters of a soil layer made up of the accumulated mortal remains. Investigator of the Prosecutor's Office is on the ground to coordinate the work of all those involved in the process of exhumation'', said a statement from the Prosecution.

According to the preliminary estimates, the massive tomb hides dozens of victims. The exact number and identity of victims will be confirmed by detailed excavations and the fortification of victim's identity by available forensic methods.

''According to the evidence collected in the mass grave, there are the bodies of victims of Bosnian and Croatian nationality from and around the Prijedor area who were killed in the summer of 1992. It is the primary mass grave, and certainly one of the largest in the northwestern Bosnia'', the statement said.

Director of the Missing Persons Institute (MPI) of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Amor Masovic confirmed to the Anadolu Agency (AA) it's the primary mass grave because the bodies of victims are complete and can be found at great depth.

''Even these are not complete skeletal bodies but are partially present and soft tissues because the soil is clay. We found the victims' watches and some money. But most probably the killings were carried out in other places and have been transported to the place of the present tomb'', explained Masovic.

He added that the victims were probably prisoners of Prijedor concentration camps, Keraterm and Trnopolje.

Prosecution and other institutions involved in the exhumation are taking intensive activities to secure these locations, and organizing process of excavations for the further forensic processing and fortification of the identities.

So far found and identified are 2,082 victims of Prijedor and still searching for about 1,200 Bosniak and Croatian victims killed during the war in and arround the Prijedor area.

Keraterm and Trnopolje were prisoner camps near city of Prijedor during the Bosnian war.

Hope for families Friday's revelation of mass grave at the Tomašica site near city of Prijedor, which is assumed to be the largest in the last ten years, reopened that never healed wounds of Prijedor Bosniaks and Croats.

"I have just returned from the site of newly discovered mass graves in Tomašica.

Team for the exhumation unearthed greater number of the bodies. Many facts indicate that in the grave there could be bodies of the local population of Mataruško hill who were killed on July 20, 1992 and were transported by trucks to an unknown destination after a few days. Efforts will continue in the coming days," wrote in his Facebook status Mirsad Duratović, president of the Association of Detainees of Prijedor in 1992.

Mirsad lived the most horrible torture in the prisoner's camp. Also his brother, who was only 15 years old, as well as father, grandfather, grandmother, five uncles and their wifes were killed.

He hopes to find them and finally bury with dignity. According to the first opinion of pathologists, majority of victims were killed in other locations, and then relocated to the area of Tomašica where their remains are hidden.

Finding these graves will reveal the facts of the war killings and hiding the mortal remains of non-Serbs from the municipality of Prijedor.

Authorities of Prijedor after finding new mass graves have remained silent. Mayor Marko Pavic says he "does not want to look back" --to the past war.

Mass graves at the site Tomašica near Prijedor (northwestern Bosnia), were discovered on Friday. So far 2,082 victims of Prijedor were found and identified, and search still conitnues for about 1,200 Bosniak and Croatian victims killed during the war in and around the Prijedor area.

Later, the Bosnian war city of Prijedor became a part of the entity of Republika Srpska.

Saturday 7 September 2013

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