North Korea has sent at least 50,000 people abroad to work under harsh conditions that amount to forced labor, a report by a rights expert said Wednesday, agencies report.

Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on North Korea
Marzuki Darusman, UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea

But the government is making at least $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion a year from their confiscated salaries, said the report by Marzuki Darusman, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea.

The report is due to be formally presented to the UN General Assembly Thursday.

These ‘state-sponsored slaves’, who are engaged in the construction, mining, logging and textile sectors, are underpaid, underfed and forced to work for 20 hours a day with just two off days a month.
Most of them are working in China or Russia while the rest are in 15 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

“I think it reflects the really tight financial and economic situation in the North,” Darusman told reporters.
North Korea has been facing international sanctions since 2006 after its launch of ballistic missiles and tests of nuclear weapons.

The report says workers are under constant surveillance by North Korean security personnel and they face repatriation if they do not perform well or violate rules.

Darusman called on Pyongyang to stop this abuse and alerted foreign companies to be vigilant so they do not become complicit in the forced labor practices.

Darusman also highlighted other human rights violations in his report.

He says North Korean women, men and children continue to be victims of “long-standing and on-going systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations by the government,” including torture, arbitrary detainment, summary execution and discrimination.

Studies by civil society organizations which had interviewed former overseas workers prove this, he said.

North Korean government, sensitive to foreign news media scrutiny of these workers, had warned them of punishments if they speak up.

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