North Korea defectors tell of camps' hell

2011-09-21 12:48

Washington - North Korean defectors on Tuesday urged the US to isolate Kim Jong-Il's regime as they recounted years in camps where they toiled morning until night and lives were worth less than flies.

Amid cautious international efforts to engage North Korea, US lawmakers invited two women to share their stories of suffering in a bid to put a greater priority on improving human rights in the communist nation.

Kim Hye-Sook told a congressional panel that she was taken to a prison camp with her family when she was only 13 because, she learned later, her grandfather had defected to South Korea years earlier.

Inmates were forced to work in coalmines for up to 18 hours a day and ate scraps of food, she said, and guards threatened to execute anyone who broke rules - including a ban on prisoners even knowing why they were jailed.

‘Bodies riddled with bullets’

Kim said that many people including her family members died at Camp Number 18, where she said "human lives are worth less than those of flies."

"I cannot even begin to describe how many people suffered and died because of starvation in the prison camp," she said, recalling bodies "riddled with countless bullet holes" if the inmates were seen as disobeying authorities.

"There was a time when I saw the bodies of people who were killed by firing squad who were rolled up in straw mats and carried away in carts, and said to myself, 'Even dogs will not die so pitifully'," she told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Kim eventually found refuge in South Korea after fleeing to China, where she said she suffered sex trafficking. She was joined in Washington by Kim Young-Soon, who said she was sent with her family to a camp in 1970 because she knew Song Hye-Rim, the mistress of Kim Jong-Il, then the heir apparent.

Kim Young-Soon said that three of her sons, a daughter and her parents died of starvation and that a firing squad publicly executed another son who tried to flee from North Korea. She said that her husband was sent to another camp in 1970 and that she did not know his fate.

"I wasted nine years of the prime of my life in that hellhole of a place where even animals will turn their faces away," said Kim Young-Soon, who is now over 70.

She urged US lawmakers to press for Kim, one of the world's most reclusive leaders, to be brought before the International Criminal Court.

"As long as he exists, people's suffering will continue," she said.

Succession steps

The women's accounts were impossible to verify independently. But an expert who testified before the committee said that human rights abuses appeared to be worsening in North Korea, perhaps due to succession dynamics in the regime.

"There is no evidence that the human rights situation in North Korea has improved as the Kim regime proceeds with steps towards leadership succession," said Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

Along with Pyongyang's provocations against South Korea, "the border crackdown aimed at preventing North Koreans from defecting to China has intensified and the political prisoner camp population has been on the increase," he said.

The crackdown comes as North Koreans increasingly have access to smuggled radios, allowing them to listen to South Korean broadcasts or US-backed Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, Scarlatoiu said.

The US earlier this month sent flood relief to North Korea.

But it has hesitated at full-fledged talks with Pyongyang, saying the regime must clearly commit to giving up nuclear weapons and improving relations with South Korea.

  • IC1 - 2011-09-21 13:53

    These poor,poor people.

  • Dougalan - 2011-09-21 14:19

    Ah yes, the true face of Communism. Wonder why Cronin and Blade don't defect to North Korea?

      Andre - 2011-09-21 14:30

      Please, let them take Malema with them...

      Met - 2011-09-21 17:04

      And very dear friends of the ANC regime

  • TextOfReason - 2011-09-21 14:31

    I see this as a failure of every nation to simply care. I also blame China, if it wasn't for their support this dictators regime would have collapsed decades ago. I vote for unconditional military intervention and the complete dismantling of this regime by external international control... the two very things I would be least likely to advise in any other occasion.

      Martin du Plessis - 2011-09-21 15:25

      Yay, world war 3!

  • pop101 - 2011-09-21 14:52

    People always defect from Communist (eg. Cuba, North Korea)to Capitalist countries, yet some of our SA population still follow/propagate the communist agenda. Sad, sad, sad.

  • Matt :-) - 2011-09-21 15:05

    Try getting a Bible into North Korea and see what happens. Very strict enforcement of atheism in this communist state. Not a nice place!

      Martin du Plessis - 2011-09-21 15:26

      Oh, yes, and that's OBVIOUSLY the cause of all the suffering, the fact that they are atheists.

      Matt :-) - 2011-09-21 15:57

      @ Martin - well, let's look at USSR, China, North Korea, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Cuba shall we... in each case the countries were communist, which requires atheism or else it fails from Day One (but does not mean that atheists are communist, note). In each case atheism was "the only way" in those countries. In just about each country people were arrested, tortured, murdered if they dared have another religion. John Lennon didn't need to "Imagine", it was happening before during and after his lifetime. Interesting is that when the Commies swept into power, they didn't teach communism straight away, but banned religion and taught evolution first. And now we see 2 things... 1) each of these countries that abandoned Communism has flocked back to religion in droves. Clearly the Atheist Utopia wasn't to their liking. 2) So now we see North Korea, which is strictly Communist, enforces Atheism as the only option and considers human life to be lower than flies - which, going by evolutionary thinking, is correct - all just conglomerates of chemicals made up into organisms. So clearly little has changed then...

      Met - 2011-09-21 17:19

      The communist regimes oppressed all religions, which they regarded as "opium of the people"What happened in China, was that all the false religions WERE destroyed BUT TRUE christianity , severely oppressed and persecuted did not only survive, they flourished. These are the socalled house churches-not the state sanctioned ones- the ones which use a "bible" without the book of Revelation, Today, in Mainland China, there are more than a 100 million christians, alive and Spirit filled. Read Brother Yuns book "heavenly Man"

      legens - 2011-09-21 17:47

      hey matt if your god were so powerful(or existed) ,why does he let these poeple suffer so .they have no choice so please don`t spew this old christian excuse ,or is it some sinister cosmic plan we know nothing about ,or even allowed to question according to your dogma?

      legens - 2011-09-21 18:34

      @ Met and there are 900 million atheist Chinese . what`s your point ... one in ten chinese is delusional ?

  • hardereen - 2011-09-21 16:59

    South Africa stands firmly behind the current regime.

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