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violations of human rights

The United Nations human rights council has set up an inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea for the first time.

The UN council unanimously voted for the probe, which will examine allegations of prison camps, slave labor and food deprivation in North Korea.

North Korea denounced the resolution as a political ploy.

It is highly unlikely the team will be granted access to North Korea, so they will have to rely on satellite imagery and accounts from defectors.

North Korea’s human rights record will now be under intense scrutiny, and evidence gathered by the team could be used in future prosecutions for crimes against humanity.

UN special rapporteur Marzuki Darusman, who presented the initial report on North Korea and will be a member of the inquiry, said that a key focus should be the country’s prison camps.

“The prison camps could qualify as crimes against humanity,” he said.

“These are camps which have the purpose of driving the people being detained there towards a slow death.”

Marzuki Darusman’s report also described “widespread and systematic violations of human rights” including enforced disappearances and using food to control people.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the UN had evidence indicating that North Korea’s political prisons held around 200,000 people, with many subjected to rape, torture and slave labor.

The UN human rights council has set up an inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea for the first time

The UN human rights council has set up an inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea for the first time

The resolution, which was presented by Japan and the European Union, was approved by all 47 members of the council.

“For too long the population of the country has been subjected to widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses,” Ireland’s Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said, speaking on behalf of the EU.

North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Pyong Se-so, called the resolution “a faked document full of political invective, with serious distortions.”

Pyong Se-so accused the council of seeking to “disgrace the image” of North Korea, adding that his country had “one of the best systems in the world for the protections of human rights”.

The inquiry has been welcomed by activists. In a statement, Human Rights Watch described the move as a “landmark step”, that would “help expose decades of abuse by the North Korean government”.

The probe comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Korean peninsula, following North Korea’s third nuclear test in February and the subsequent tightening of UN sanctions.

On Friday, the US voiced optimism that China would help enforce UN sanctions, a key part of which involves stopping money flow to Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and illicit arms sales.

“We asked the Chinese for enhanced scrutiny of financial institutions in North Korea,” said US Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen, who is visiting Beijing.

“It’s no secret that there is a fair amount of financial relationship between China and North Korea and Chinese financial institutions in North Korea.”

In recent days North Korean rhetoric against both the US and South Korea has escalated.

On Thursday, the North Korean army issued a statement threatening US military bases in Japan, in response to the US flying nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over South Korea as part of a joint military exercise.

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Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has suspended the country’s entire prison staff, amid protests over video footage showing prisoners apparently being abused by guards.

Prisoners are shown being badly beaten, one sexually assaulted with a broom.

In an announcement live on national TV, President Mikhail Saakashvili said police would be deployed in all jails.

Relatives of inmates have tried to storm the prison where the alleged abuses took place.

The ruling party has said the video was staged by the opposition to discredit the government ahead of key elections.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has suspended the country's entire prison staff

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has suspended the country's entire prison staff

For critics, though, this is graphic proof that the authorities’ tough approach to crime has become unaccountable and heavy-handed.

Mikhail Saakashvili demanded a complete overhaul of the prison system.

“Patrol police must immediately enter all prisons,” he said.

“There must be zero tolerance to any violations of human rights, because we are building a civilized and humane country, rather than discipline based on violence.”

The film showing abuse in the Gldani prison No. 8 was broadcast on TV on Tuesday.

It triggered overnight protests in Tbilisi and also in the southern city of Batumi, Georgian media say.

In the capital, anti-government demonstrations were held in various places, including outside the national broadcaster’s headquarters.

Angry protesters have been demanding the resignation of Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, the minister in charge of prisons.

On Wednesday, Khatuna Kalmahelidze said she had decided to step down because her efforts to protect human rights in prisons had “proved insufficient”.

Later, an opposition TV station released more videos which appear to show the abuse of underage inmates in a juvenile detention centre.

It has long been suspected that prisoners in Georgia are mistreated, our correspondent says.

When Mikhail Saakashvili swept to power after the Rose Revolution in 2004, he clamped down heavily on crime.

But his critics say Georgia has now swung to the other extreme, accusing his government of becoming authoritarian.

The abuse videos come as Georgia is preparing for parliamentary elections on 1 October, seen as the biggest test facing the country’s democracy since the revolution.

President Mikhail Saakashvili’s party faces a challenge from Georgia’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has vowed to oust the government from power.

With a reputation for benevolence and philanthropy, Bidzina Ivanishvili is popular among many poorer voters who are struggling in modern Georgia’s neo-liberal economy, correspondents say.