Once the bodyguard of Kim Jong Il, Lee Young Guk today is a human rights advocate for the people of North Korea.
Last week, Lee was in Geneva at the Human Rights Summit. The 54-year-old has a clear mission: to draw attention to the grave human rights violations in North Korea and get current leader Kim Jong Un in front of the International Criminal Court. He wants a conviction for the son of the man he used to protect with his life.
Lee was a high school student when he got the prestigious summons to become Kim Jong Il’s bodyguard. All candidates had to go through extensive tests of their bodies, as well their characters. “The most important factor was your family background,” Lee said. “They focused on the question of whether one of your relatives was a political prisoner or had defected to South Korea.”
Before he started, he had to go through training and was somewhat brainwashed, Lee said. “They told us again and again what a godlike being Kim Jong Il was,” Lee said. “In my mind, he was this great person.”
Lee said that impression was quickly corrected when he began working for Kim. “His language was vulgar,” Lee said. “He wasn’t the man I had expected at all.” Lee added. Kim was a very moody person.
Despite the preferential treatment the bodyguards enjoyed, they were always scared. They were afraid of making a mistake and falling out of favor.
Even small mishaps could have grave consequences for their entire families. “He was cruel and had no mercy,” Lee said. “If people talked about him behind his back or laughed at him, he had them ‘disappear’ in the dark of night. Even his close confidants.” Continued