North Korea has insisted its labour camp network improves inmates' "mentality" and is good for them.
The Stalinist regime defended the labour camps as places of improvement, where detainees had the opportunity to reflect on "wrongdoings."
A top official offered the explanation at the United Nations (UN) following heavy criticism in a report on human rights abuse inside the Hermit Kingdom.
Many of the abuses are reckoned to have occurred inside the regime's labour camps and prison camps in conditions of "horror" unmatched anywhere else in the world, the UN Security Council has been told.
Speaking at a briefing, foreign ministry official Choe Myong-nam said the camps promoted "reform through labour." He said: "Detention centres [are] where people are improved through their mentality and look on their wrongdoings."
Acknowledging the existence of the labour camps could be a first step toward reform, hope some regime watchers in Washington DC.
International condemnation of the camps followed a report by Amnesty International which detailed incidences of rape, torture and killings. Satellite images were produced which suggested the size of the camp network was growing, with leader Kim Jong-un accused of "violating every conceivable human right" by the author.
But the ordeal endured by foreigners held by the regime – including three American citizens – is unlikely to change any time soon.
Political prisoners found guilty of activities against the regime are held in a separate network of camps reserved for so-called enemies of the state, where conditions are even more harsh.
One detainee being held for political crimes recently lifted the lid on what it is like. US citizen Matthew Miller said he spends all day digging fields in complete isolation.
Attention on North Korea has been focused recently on dictator Kim Jong-un, who has vanished from public life. His disappearance has prompted a raft of speculation about his status as leader, with some claiming he is no longer in charge.