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“North Korea’s labor camps,” says Blaine Harden “have now existed twice as long as the Soviet Gulag and about twelve times longer than the Nazi concentration camps.” Harden, a former Washington Post bureau chief in East Asia, has written an important account of a man born into one of the camps and the first man to escape from the notorious Camp 14.
“Enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations.” That was the view of Kim Il Sung, who with Stalin’s blessing invaded South Korea in 1950. The policy continued under Kim Jong Il, who deployed the camps to eliminate the evil seed. According to escapee Shin Dong-hyuk, the camps work well as a killing machine.
Shin’s view is that Kim Jong Il was worse than Hitler because while Hitler attacked his enemies, the North Korean dictator worked his own people to death in places like Camp 14. In the event of some major action, the North Korean regime would launch “collective execution” of all prisoners. Shin has solid grounds for this belief, such as Rule 10 of Camp 14.
“Prisoners who violate the laws and regulations of the camp will be shot immediately.” Camp commandants force prisoners to watch executions, including those of their own parents. Shin was forced to watch his mother executed by hanging and his older brother killed by a three-man firing squad.
In camp schools Shin saw teachers beating students to death for no apparent reason. Students worked as slaves at such tasks as gathering human excrement in freezing conditions, with no gloves and no proper winter clothing. Their lot included heavy lifting in factories and on farms.
“Prisoners must more than fulfill the work assigned them each day,” explains Camp 14 rule number 7. “Prisoners who neglect their work quota or fail to complete it will be considered to harbor discontent and will be shot immediately.” Those were the working conditions under which Shin and thousands of other inmates labored. The death penalty also applied to dalliance between the sexes.
“Should sexual physical contact occur without prior approval, the perpetrators will be shot immediately,” explains Camp 14 rule number 8. Camp guards, however, were free to function as sexual predators. If one of their victims became pregnant, the mother and the baby were killed. For a genocidal regime infanticide is not a problem and neither is torture.
Shin Dong-hyuk bears the marks of his own torture sessions, which make for grim reading. Such suffering was part of the process in which the Marxist-Leninist regime punishes children for the sins of their parents. “Prisoners must genuinely repent of their errors,” says Camp 14 rule number 9. “Anyone who does not acknowledge his sins and instead denies them or carries a deviant opinion of them will be shot immediately.”
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