Clearly detailed satellite photos released by the South Korean government reveal a rapidly growing network of six slave-labor camps, home to more than 200,000 North Koreans, one-third of whom are believed to be children.
Located in the rugged, isolated mountain terrain of central North Korea, the gulags are the repository for those unfortunate North Koreans who have committed perceived “political offenses” against the despotic regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong ll.
The prison system is divided into areas called “Total Control Zones,” from which no prisoners are ever released. As such, these camps hold up to three generations of North Koreans, many of whom have been born into permanent captivity.
While the North Korean government steadfastly denies the very existence of these slave camps, the new satellite imagery tells a different story. Moreover, a handful of North Koreans fortunate enough to have survived their time in the gulags have filled in the grisly details, most recently in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights.
Chaired by Chris Smith (R-NJ), the committee heard vivid accounts of hard labor, starvation, torture and public execution from Kim Hye Sook and Kim Young Soon, two female North Korean prison camp survivors.
Both women told tales of prisoners subjected to a Hobbesian existence in which they lived in rancid conditions, worked seven days a week in coal mines, and subsisted on a diet of rats, frogs, snakes, and insects. If the prisoners didn’t succumb to starvation or malnutrition, they faced torture, firing squads and even public stoning at the hands of the viscous North Korean prison guards.
Mrs. Sook, who was 13-years-old when she was incarcerated in 1975, said, “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.’”
Tragically for Mrs. Sook, despite being released after 28 years in the prison camp, her nightmare only continued when she went to China. There, she was sold several times as a victim of human and sexual trafficking.
Stories like Mrs. Sook’s have been sadly corroborated by the few North Korean prison guards who have defected from the North. One such man was Kwon Hyok, the former head of security at North Korea’s notorious Prison Camp 22, who testified about the mass atrocities committed in the gulags.
Those atrocities included the widespread use of gas chambers, as well as medical experimentation on prisoners, including children. He chillingly said, “It would be a total lie to say I felt sympathy for the children dying such a painful death… In the society and the regime I was under, I just felt they were enemies.”
The tragic reality of course is that the prison camp’s inhabitants are nothing more than the innocent victims of North Korean dictator Kim Jong ll’s genocidal assault against his own people – genocide based on religious, racial and the ethnic grounds.
Religious genocide in North Korea has been in full, vigorous effect since Kim Jong ll’s father, Kim ll Sung, first ascended to power in 1948 and established Juche, North Korea’s official religion. Juche required that all North Koreans worship Kim ll Sung as god, and later his son, Kim Jong ll, as the son of god. As such, according to one escapee from North Korea, “Religious freedom is not allowed in North Korea because it will ruin the deification of Kim ll Sung.”
Protection of the Kim family’s deity status has resulted in North Korean Christians being publicly executed or sent to concentration camps, where they are without exception starved, tortured and worked to death along with their entire families. The result, according to a statement released by the National Association of Evangelicals, has made North Korea “more brutal, more deliberate, more implacable, and more purely genocidal than any other nation in the world.”
North Korea has also vigorously engaged in ethnic genocide in its quest to maintain racial purity among its people. To that end, the North Korean government has systematically and brutally exterminated every child believed to be fathered by non-North Koreans (usually Chinese or Chinese-Koreans) through infanticide and forced abortions.
For example, pregnant women sent to North Korean prison camps have their babies aborted or killed because the fathers are assumed to be Chinese. According to a spokesman for the advocacy group Human Rights Without Frontiers, prison officials try to abort the babies through “forced abortion, torture, or very hard labor.” If the baby somehow survives, the general policy is to “let the baby die or to help the baby die with a plastic sheet.”
Of course, the existence of such a barbaric system in North Korea should come as little surprise given the sixty-plus year rule of Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong ll, crazed lunatics who have subjected the North Korean people to an Orwellian nightmare of forced starvation, gulags, and endless brainwashing.
Yet sadly, and not surprisingly, international attention to the North Korean gulag system and its corresponding genocidal abuses have been eclipsed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, its threat to regional security, and chronic food shortages.
So, to that end, a group of 40 Human Rights organizations has recently attempted to draw international interest by urging the United Nations to launch an investigation into crimes against humanity in North Korea. In particular, the groups have called for a UN inspection of the prison camps, as well as a demand that the North Korean government produce a list of those being held.
Of course, the request for UN action may not bear any fruit given the UN’s own lack of consistency when it comes to human rights. After all, this is the same organization that has had Cuba, China, Syria and until recently, Libya, serve on its own Human Rights Council.
That inconsistency showed most recently when the UN voted in August to launch an investigation into crimes against humanity by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad for its savage crackdown on protesters, which has killed over 3,000 people. However, for some reason the UN seems hesitant to launch a similar investigation against a North Korean regime which has systematically killed millions of its people over a sixty-year span.
So, if the UN may not be the best or most effective route, then maybe the Obama administration can lend a hand and utilize the services of the newly created interagency Atrocities Prevention Board it established in August. According to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Atrocities Prevention Board will “develop cross-cutting strategies to prevent atrocities and ensure… our government is warned about emerging threats.”
Given its continuous and long-standing genocidal assault against the North Korean people, the regime of Kim Jong ll will hopefully be the board’s first order of business.