A blog by Grant Montgomery, co-founder of Family Care Foundation, a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for families on 5 continents. This site highlights the plight of 300,000 North Koreans who have fled their country due to the brutal oppression of a Stalinist North Korean regime, as well as those still living in North Korea.
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.”
North Korea’s prison camps are a closed-off world of death, torture and forced labor where babies are born slaves, according to two survivors who liken the horrors of the camps to a Holocaust in progress.
“People think the Holocaust is in the past, but it is still very much a reality. It is still going on in North Korea,” Shin Dong-hyuk told AFP through an interpreter on the sidelines of a human rights summit in Geneva.
Shin himself spent his first 23 years in a prison camp in the secretive country, where he says he was tortured and subjected to forced labor before making a spectacular escape seven years ago – and giving the outside world a rare first-hand account of life inside the camps.
The 30-year-old is the only person known to have been born in such a camp to flee and live to tell the tale, and was portrayed in a book by journalist Blaine Harden published last year called “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West.”
While Shin’s comparison with Nazi concentration camps – where the majority of the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust were murdered – may seem extreme, another North Korean prison camp survivor, Chol-Hwan Kang, agreed with the analogy.
“Fundamentally, it is the same as Hitler’s Auschwitz,” Kang told AFP. With whole families in North Korea thrown into camps together and starving to death, he said the “methods may be different, but the effect is the same… It’s outrageous!”
Kang, now 43, was sent to Camp 15 with his whole family when he was nine years old to repent for the suspected disloyalties of his grandfather. He spent 10 years there before his family was released and later managed to flee to China and on to South Korea – the same route taken by Shin.