[Update: I almost forgot this UPI link, and thanks to the friend who forwarded the link. Sometimes, I think it’s your blog, and I just assemble it. It’s certainly easier for me that way, and much more interesting.]
If you have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, Camp 14 survivor Shin Dong-Hyuk has an opinion piece published describing life inside a place that no other prisoner has ever escaped to describe. If you don’t, a number of other pieces have described Shin’s story recently. Thanks to a reader for providing these links. Shin describes a hideous, other-than-human existence at the camp, an existence that often ended horribly, and which is hardly deserving of the term “life:”
Shin spent his first 12 years with his mother but she worked from 5am to 9.30pm before attending a daily “struggle session,” at which prisoners were forced to accuse and beat other inmates who failed to achieve work quotas. [Mail and Guardian, S. Africa]
Children were beaten to death in front of others for stealing five grains of wheat out of hunger. Girls were raped and protesting mothers disappeared. He witnessed his own mother offering sex to guards. Teenagers were buried under cement while being forced to build power plants. Shin’s middle-finger knuckle was cut off as punishment for dropping a sewing machine. [ABC News]
The isolation of the Camp was so severe that Shin had never heard of Kim Jong Il (really?), the worship of whom was considered a privilege that inmates of the camp were denied. ABC News also reports Shin’s description of what happened after his mother attempted to escape, a plot that Shin insists he knew nothing about.
On the fourth day Shin was dragged into cell No.7, the secret underground torture chamber. Completely stripped, legs cuffed, hands tied with rope, his legs and hands were hung from the ceiling. The torturers lit up a charcoal fire under his back. He struggled. But they pierced a steel hook near Shin’s groin to keep him from writhing. Amid the sounds and smells of flesh burning, Shin then blacked out. [ABC News]
His mother and brother were executed for the attempt, while Shin and his father watched:
At the age of 12 Mr Shin was summoned to watch the hanging of his mother and the shooting of his older brother. Beside him, his father wept. Mr Shin, whose life was moulded by the regime’s guilt-by-association policy towards the relatives of political prisoners, had only one emotion. “I was furious with them,” Mr Shin, now 22 and living in South Korea, recalled. “As a result of their crimes I was subject to torture. Since we were born, we were taught that our parents committed crimes and we were to work hard to wash off their sins as children of criminals. [Sunday Times]
In the Christian Science Monitor, Don Kirk interviews Shin and those at the North Korean Human Rights Database Center who published his book, “Escape to the Outside World: From Total Control Prison Camp No. 14 in North Korea.” (Don’t miss the link to the audio of Kirk describing that interview, by the way.) Says publisher Kim Sang Hun: “The indifference of South Korean society to the issue of North Korean rights is so awful.”
Well, yes. Kirk even managed to extract an admission from the Roh Administration that when it met with Kim Jong Il last month, it never even brought up human rights. It briefly raised the issue of hundreds of South Korean abductees in the North, but Kim Jong Il insisted that all were staying in the North voluntarily, and that it was “premature” to raise the issue in any event. That was enough to shut Roh up. Clearly, the activists’ hope is that under the next presidential administration, their government and society will begin to pay attention to the atrocities in the North. But while I believe that Lee Myung Bak is practical enough not to put Kim Jong Il’s interests above those of South Korean voters, activists may invest too much faith in Lee’s dedication to principle, which I guage to be prosciutto-thin.
This Don Kirk background piece in the New York Sun describes efforts by South Korean and American activists to raise the profile of these issues. In four years of regular blogging about this, I’ve seldom seen more press coverage of a NK/HR story, but I’ve come to accept that TV media, celebrities, the Human Rights Industry, the U.N., and other attention-getters are too ambivalent about anti-American tyrants like Kim Jong Il to criticize them forthrightly.
As welcome as the amount of coverage of Shin’s story may be, contrast the severity of Shin’s treatment and the credulity of the Human Rights Industry toward him to the gullible echo chamber that the media became when four former British Gitmo detainees made the patently false allegation that Army guards flushed Korans down toilets. That story was picked up by media worldwide and triggered deadly riots despite the obvious fact that a Koran doesn’t even fit down a toilet. Now you see what we’re up against.
On the other hand, Shin’s story is so horrible, and the details so extreme, that it’s tempting to say that it simply couldn’t happen. Aspects of it (such as Shin’s ignorance of Kim Jong Il, and the very fact of his birth) certainly do raise legitimate questions. History tells us that it could happen, of course, but given the opacity of North Korea and the “international community’s” overall disinterest in pressing the issue, it’s impossible to verify whether it really did.
Since his escape, Shin has testified at Britain’s House of Lords and would like to do the same at the U.S. Congress. I’m trying to arrange my own interview with Shin, to see if he can identify and describe some of the places inside Camp 14 that are visible on Google Earth, and perhaps to dispel some of my own questions about how a child could be born in, survive in, and escape from such a place.