N Korean camps compared to Nazi Holocaust

2013-02-20 12:04
Shin Dong-hyuk human rights activist, North Korean defector and escapee, demonstrates during a White House vigil at Lafayette Park. (Karen Bleier, AFP)

Shin Dong-hyuk human rights activist, North Korean defector and escapee, demonstrates during a White House vigil at Lafayette Park. (Karen Bleier, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Geneva - North Korea's prison camps are a closed-off world of death, torture and forced labour where babies are born slaves, according to two survivors who liken the horrors of the camps to a Holocaust in progress.

"People think the Holocaust is in the past, but it is still very much a reality. It is still going on in North Korea," Shin Dong-hyuk told AFP through an interpreter on the sidelines of a human rights summit in Geneva.

Shin himself spent his first 23 years in a prison camp in the secretive country, where he says he was tortured and subjected to forced labour before making a spectacular escape seven years ago - and giving the outside world a rare first-hand account of life inside the camps.

The 30-year-old is the only person known to have been born in such a camp to flee and live to tell the tale, and was portrayed in a book by journalist Blaine Harden published last year called "Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West."

Nazi concentration camps

Camp 14 - a massive slave labour camp comprising a number of "villages", factories, farms and mines - is one of five known prison camps in North Korea believed to house as many as 200 000 people.

While Shin's comparison with Nazi concentration camps - where the majority of the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust were murdered - may seem extreme, another North Korean prison camp survivor, Chol-Hwan Kang, agreed with the analogy.

"Fundamentally, it is the same as Hitler's Auschwitz," Kang told AFP, also through an interpreter, referring to one of the Nazi era's most notorious death camps.

With whole families in North Korea thrown into camps together and starving to death, he said the "methods may be different, but the effect is the same... It's outrageous!"

Kang, now 43, was sent to Camp 15 with his whole family when he was nine years old to repent for the suspected disloyalties of his grandfather.

He spent 10 years there before his family was released and later managed to flee to China and on to South Korea - the same route taken by Shin.

'Guilt-by-association'

Both men say the international community must do more to help North Koreans, with Kang insisting the world should take advantage of growing feelings of opposition within the communist state.

He suggested that Pyongyang's recent nuclear test was meant not only as a message of strength to the outside world but also to potential opponents to the regime within the country.

"It is the international community's duty to help them light the fire of resistance," he said.

Shin, who at the age of 13 was forced to watch the executions of his mother and brother, also said "I want to push the United Nations and the international community to take action."

After meeting Shin and hearing his harrowing account in December, UN right chief Navi Pillay called for an in-depth international inquiry into "one of the worst, but least understood and reported, human rights situations in the world."

Shin, who says his father and grandfather were sent to the camp because two of his uncles apparently defected to the South, said he was expected to spend his entire life there under North Korea's "guilt-by-association" system that calls for up to three generations of family members of an accused to also be punished.

'Babies are born to be slaves like their parents'

"The birth of a baby is a blessed thing in the outside world, but inside the camp, babies are born to be slaves like their parents. It's an absolute scandal," Shin said.

Both Shin and Kang described life in the camp as defined by hunger and violence.

"Daily I saw torture, and every day in the camp I saw people dying of malnutrition and starvation. I saw lots of friends die and I almost died myself of malnutrition," Kang recalled.

Shin still carries the scars of his experience on his body. Resting his right hand on the table in front of him, he revealed the missing tip of his middle finger, which was chopped off by a prison guard as punishment after he dropped a piece of machinery in a factory.

Overstepping prison rules was enough to get you killed, including not informing the guards of other prisoners' misdeeds.

‘Still learning to feel'

In Harden's book, Shin admits he didn't hesitate to inform a guard of his mother and brother's escape plan, and that he felt no remorse when he was forced to watch their executions.

Shin had never felt close to them or anyone else in the camp, seeing others as competitors for the tiny rations of mainly cabbage-based gruel he survived on.

That has changed since he got out, he told AFP. "Now I feel they were dear to me, but I'm still learning to feel."

Behind barbed wire, Shin had no notion of life on the outside until he met fellow prisoner Park Yong Chul who had lived abroad and who vividly described the food he had tasted.

"I really didn't have the understanding of freedom and liberty. I only escaped because I imagined the food," Shin said.

One day when Shin and Park were working in a remote area on the outskirts of the camp where the guards were far between, they decided to make a run for it through the high-voltage fence.

Park was electrocuted and Shin got out by climbing over his body. Today, he lives in South Korea and works to spread awareness about the conditions in the camps.

"I don't know what impact I'm having," said Shin, who hosts a television show where he interviews North Korea defectors.

"I'm here outside the camp, but what I'm doing daily is talk about the situation in the camp," he said. "I'm still in the camp in my head."

- SAPA

Read more on:    un  |  north korea  |  war  |  child abuse  |  human rights  |  north korea nuclear programme  |  sanctions
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
7 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

Zille: Only DA can challenge ANC in F State

The DA is the only party that can challenge the ANC in the Free State, opposition party leader Helen Zille says.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Monday Sir Lowry's Pass - 13:45 PM
    Road name: N2 Westbound
    HEAVY TRAFFIC over Sir Lowrys Pass - expect delays
  • Monday Somerset West - 13:45 PM
    Road name: N2 Westbound
    EXPECT DELAYS due to high volumes
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Nokia C3

The Nokia C3 Features a 2+ Megapixel Camera, A2DP, Bluetooth,...

From R1175.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There may be a break through, either through quiet contemplative time to connect to your deep side or forced on you by...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.