Five North Korean construction workers were found dead in their accommodation in the Russian city of Ufa on Thursday morning, an investigative committee of the Republic of Bashkortostan reported.
According to the committee, an initial assessment indicated that the North Korean workers died of carbon monoxide poisoning after burning coal in a trailer in an attempt to keep warm when their heating broke.
Temperatures on the night of February 28 to March 1 hit a low of -24 degrees Celsius (-11.2 degrees Fahrenheit), according to accuweather.com.
“In the morning of March 1 of 2018, law enforcement agencies of the republic received a message stating that the bodies of five people were found on a construction site on Blucher street in the city of Ufa,” the investigative committee website read.
“The Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Republic of Bashkortostan has instituted criminal proceedings on the basis of the criminal offense under paragraph 3 of article 109 of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation (negligent homicide of two or more persons),” it added.
The committee said that the five North Korean citizens were legally in the country and carrying out construction work at the site, which it said is owned by a company called Slavia LLC.
The workers had tried to light a fire in a bucket after the heating within the container broke down and subsequently died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that the workers had lit a coal fire.
“A forensic examination, as well as a series of other forensic examinations, will be conducted to determine the exact cause of the death of the victims. Criminal investigations are underway,” the investigative committee said.
Images published by the committee show cramped conditions within the shipping container in which the laborers were staying, as well as what appears to be the broken electric heater.
According to Salvia’s website, the construction company has completed 39 construction projects amounting to 250,000 square meters of residential housing in the city of Ufa. It also is engaged in the construction of industrial facilities.
The website details ongoing construction projects including a multi-story apartment building on Blucher street, which it says will hold 186 apartments – likely the site that the North Korean laborers were working on.
Salvia did not answer calls from NK News for comment in time for publication.
Reports in Interfax suggested the workers were hired by a local-based company named ООО Строители-7 – which literally translates to “Builders-7 LLC” – a business, company data shows, run by an individual named Thak Yong Nam. According to Russian official data, “Builders-7 LLC” is a subsidiary of ООО “3 ВСП”, which in turn is founded by North Korea’s Ministry of Construction and Building-Materials Industry.
North Korea has for decades exported labor overseas as a means to generate currency.
Russia is one of the key locations where such labor is employed.
Issues of DPRK workers’ rights were detailed in a report submitted in September 2015 by then-UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea Marzuki Darusman.
Among them were conditions that amounted to forced labor including the provision of inadequate food rations, inadequate health and safety measures, inadequate compensation, no freedom of movement, excessive work hours, and threats of repatriation.
Russia, in particular, has seen multiple reports of deaths and injuries sustained by DPRK laborers in recent years.
In June last year, the U.S. State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, listing Russia as a Tier Three offender for its involvement in the trafficking of North Korean laborers.
The report stated that Pyongyang had signed agreements with Moscow to operate “labor camps on Russian soil and subjected thousands of North Korean workers to forced labor.”
Tier Three status, according to the report, denotes countries whose governments “do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”
North Korean labor exports are now also the subject of sanctions.
UN Security Council Resolution 2397, passed on December 22, 2017, stipulates that member states must repatriate all North Korean workers on employment contracts by December 22, 2019.
Member states must also provide a midterm report after 15 months listing all North Korean nationals that were repatriated in the first year from the adoption date.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: Night comes down by katterham on 2012-09-11 09:46:40