Former prisoners took part in a mock trial before judges, arranged by human rights groups to raise awareness of inhumane conditions in North Korea’s prisons. At the event, hosted by John Hopkins University in Baltimore, former prisoners described the human rights abuses they were forced to endure.
One of the speakers was Kang Chol-hwan, a defector who escaped from North Korea in 1992, after spending ten years in the Yodok concentration camp, where he was incarcerated as a child with his family. The ex-prisoner-turned-activist spoke out about the terrible conditions inside the camp, where it is believed thousands of people are still being kept captive and worked to death.
Chol-hwan described how he and his family were forced to survive on vermin and were made to carry out slave labor. Recalling his time in a North Korean camp, Chol-hwan said: “Daily life in the work camps is very mundane. We wake up at 5 am and are forced to work until sunset. We are given lessons on Kim il-sung and Juche. We are forced to watch public executions.
He added: “We are physically abused – hit and tortured. I think of it as another form of Auschwitz. These work camps are like products of Nazism, an abusive government needs elements such as Nazi concentration camps. They just have different ways of killing people.”
Chol-hwan said escapees of the camp usually got out with the help of the South Korean government or missionaries. He said: “Missionaries came and prayed for us. The heavens helped me and I was [eventually able to get from] from China to South Korea.”