Nearly 20,000 North Korean workers are employed as bonded labourers abroad, mainly in neighbouring countries like China and Russia, a UN rights investigator has said and pledged to look into the issue.
"Another issue is that of the North Korean bonded labour which on a first take may involve as many as 20,000 workers. The initial information indicates that majority would be in China and Russia," Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur for North Korea, said.
According to NK Watch, some of the host countries for such workers apart from Russia and China are Mongolia, Malaysia, Qatar, Kuwait, among others.
The South Korea-based organisation, however, differs vastly from the Special Rapporteur's estimates of overseas workers and pegs the number as high as 1,50,000 workers spread across 40 countries and filling USD 3 billion of the government coffers annually from their salaries.
"It is difficult to get an accurate estimate. Most of the information is secondary and based on the testimony of defectors," said Ahn, Director of NK Watch who was a key witness in the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on North Korea.
"...The single most important way the international community could signal its determination and resolve to pursue this issue at the level it belongs in international criminal law, and thereby sustain further pressure for accountability and change," Darusman said while addressing the UN Human Rights Commission earlier in the day about human rights violations in North Korea.
The CoI, which included Darusman, issued a report a year ago that documented killings, torture and political prison camps that it said amounted to crimes against humanity being committed by North Korea's government.
North Korea had rejected the report denied the existence of the camps and any violations.
North Korean diplomat Kim Yong-Ho, in a speech to the Geneva forum yesterday, again rejected the CoI and the Special Rapporteur's report as being based on false testimony.
"It is none other than the 'Special Rapporteur' that has been wandering here and there under manipulation of the hostile forces, in order to realize and represent their ill-minded political objectives," Kim said.