“Those Who are Sent to the Mountains:” North Korea’s vast gulag system


It is a rare and difficult thing for new material to be found about North Korea and exposed to the outside world. Over the past several weeks, however, new light has been shed on the country’s darkest corners of all – life in North Korea’s secret slave labour camps. A report produced by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) has based its findings on extensive interviews with more than 60 defectors – prisoners and camp guards who have escaped to South Korea – and over 40 satellite photographs of the camps. It makes detailed recommendations for the dismantlement of the vast and complex web of prisons hidden in North Korea’s mountainous region by calling for an international commission of inquiry to investigate.

More than 200 000 prisoners are being held without any judicial process and often any idea of the charges being made against them. The extended families of prisoners are also sent to the camps in an effort to wipe out any form of criticism made against the system. Within the camps, prisoners face starvation, slave labour, rape, torture and execution. The report provides precise locations of camp barracks, execution grounds and work sites. Despite this, North Korea continues to deny the existence of any political prisons in the country, while the rest of the world continues to look away from the grim reality that is slowly emerging. China, North Korea’s ally, forcibly returns North Koreans who have fled across the border back to North Korean prison camps, where they face torture and execution.

On Wednesday 25 April the Henry Jackson Society will host a panel discussion with three North Korean defectors in order to hear their first-hand accounts of the horrendous human rights abuses they and others were forced to endure as part of daily life in North Korea. One of the speakers – Shin Dong-hyuk – managed to escape from a North Korean prison camp. Dong-hyuk was born inside Camp 14, Kaechon in 1982. During his twenty-two years inside the camp he was severely punished for trivial ‘crimes’ – for dropping a sewing machine his finger was cut off. To make him ‘confess’ to joining an escape plot supposedly constructed by his brother, he was suspended over a fire and hook was thrust through his belly.

The remaining two speakers are Kim Joo-il, a former soldier in the North Korean army, and Yun Tae-yang, who is now running as a candidate for the Grand National Party in South Korea. The event runs from 5.30-7pm on Wednesday 25th April 2012 in Committee Room 9, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA. To attend please RSVP to deeba.mufti@henryjacksonsociety.org .


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