Shin Dong-hyuk spent his first 23 years in North Korean prison camp 14, where he was tortured and subjected to forced labor. Another North Korean prison camp survivor, Chol-Hwan Kang, spent 10 years in Camp 15.
Kang suggests 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. 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.
Both Shin and Kang described life in their labor camps 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.
“I’m here outside the camp, but what I’m doing daily is talk about the situation in the camp,” Shin said. “I’m still in the camp in my head.”
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.”