Statement on the tragic death of US student Otto Warmbier

23/06/2017
Press release

(Seoul) The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) expresses its profound sadness and concern over the death of US citizen Otto Warmbier.

“It makes Mr. Warmbier’s death no less tragic to observe that every North Korean must live every day with the awareness that the slightest departure from Pyongyang’s repressive laws and orders could result in arbitrary detention without trial, life-long imprisonment in a ‘gulag’ prison camp, torture, or execution.”

Eun Kyoung Kwon, ICNK Secretary-General

While ICNK does not yet know the exact cause of Mr. Warmbier’s death, there is no doubt that North Korea bears responsibility for arbitrarily arresting him, sending him to trial in a court where basic fair trial principles and procedures were ignored, and then incarcerating him in a way that made it possible to suffer grievous injury. The fact that North Korea held Warmbier for more than a year while he was in a coma, depriving him of access to advanced medical treatment, was also an outrageous violation of his rights. The treatment that Warmbier received at the hands of North Korean authorities is consistent with the kinds of abuse experienced by thousands of North Koreans held for so-called political crimes.

Mr. Warmbier’s alleged ‘crime’ was taking down a propaganda banner from a staff-only area of his hotel during his tour group’s visit to North Korea. For that perceived insult to the government and the ruling Workers Party of Korea, he was arrested, forced to confess, judged without receiving any legal assistance, and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor in an arbitrary and unjust manner similar to what many North Koreans have experienced.

Over the past 20 years, North Korea has arrested 16 US citizens on various trumped up charges. To date, three of them remain in custody. Over the same time period, hundreds of thousands of North Korean citizens have been held in the country’s vast system of labor camps for allegedly deviating from Pyongyang’s insistence on absolute loyalty to the ruling Kim family dynasty.

“The only comfort we can offer to the Warmbier family is that we will not cease our work on human rights in North Korea, until the perpetrators of these crimes have been brought to justice.”

Eun Kyoung Kwon, ICNK Secretary-General

The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) is a joint effort of over 40 human rights groups worldwide that seeks to protect the human rights of North Koreans and to hold the Pyongyang government accountable for its abuses and violations of the human rights of the North Korean people. FIDH Is a member of ICNK.

Press contacts
FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) - Tel: +66886117722 (Bangkok)
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