North Korea is not exactly renown for being a stable, friendly country with an impeccable report card for human decency. Quite the opposite, actually. North Korea is, in the most basic of terms, completely insane. The country is made up of one political party and is completely ruled by a singular man; Kim Jong-Un, who is the son of Kim Jong-il and grandson to Kim Il-sung, making him the third generation of the Kim family to rule over North Korea with a dictator’s fist. The craziness and atrocities that make up Korea are pretty common knowledge, but if you would like a refresher course, be sure to check out Vice’s video series on their infiltration into North Korea. The first of said videos can be found below; we’ll wait for you to catch up and meet back here.
North Korea has been in hot water with the United Nations in the past on the grounds of human rights violations, among other problems. The atrocities committed at North Korean prison camps have long been known to be terrible and horrific, though little attention was given to the issue on a global level. Escapees from the camps, which are usually populated by “political prisoners” and their friends and family, have bravely stepped forward to give their testimonies about their experiences inside these camps. Perhaps the most famous instance of this is the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, a prison camp escapee who travels the world looking to inform others about his experiences in order to inspire action against such cruelties. A video of Shin Dong-hyuk talking about his experiences can be found below.
Shin Dong-hyuk may now have his wish fulfilled; after years of imprisonment and activism across the globe, the United Nations will be hearing testimonies from North Korean prison escapees, with the testimonies beginning today. The hope is that the testimonies can be used to levy charges against the North Korean government, which denies any abuse or infringement when it comes to human right’s issues. The United Nations panel will gather evidence, hear testimonies, including that of Shin Dong-hyuk, and pressure North Korea to open up to investigations and clean up its act.
According to some estimates, there are possibly up to 200,000 prisoners in North Korean prison camps, and the abuses they face are unthinkably awful. Shin Dong-hyuk has previously recounted having to witness the execution of his own mother and brother, as well as having his own finger chopped off for the offense of dropping a sewing machine. Shin Dong-hyuk was quoted as saying, “Because the North Korean people cannot stand up with guns like Libya and Syria … I personally think this [speaking to the UN] is the first and last hope left.”
Jee Heon-a, another prison camp escapee, recounts that she saw other prisoners eating salted frogs, since they were one of the few forms of nourishment. She went on to say that she also subsisted off of the meager meat. She recounted seeing a mother forced to kill her own child after being beaten by a prison guard; the newborn was drowned in a pail of water, and then taken away by the grandmother who helped birth it. Other accounts talk of children as young as seven being clubbed to death in the prison camps, among other horrors.
It is unsure of what the United Nations will be able to do in means of halting this atrocities against basic human rights, but the hope is that by simply raising awareness of the issue, change will come. The writer’s heart goes out to the brave men and women who will testify in the upcoming meetings, with hope that their words with spark change and revolution in the world, as well as freedom for the masses still trapped in unspeakable horror.