It’s been about a month since I attended an event here in Washington for the publication of the new edition of The Hidden Gulag, a report that documents North Korea’s prison camp system in agonizing detail with witness testimony and satellite imagery. The report added many pages of valuable testimony and data to our knowledge of these camps, which are probably the worst human rights violation anywhere in this world today. Yet almost as soon as the report was published, it was superseded. New satellite imagery becomes available faster than Curtis and I can analyze it. New witnesses beat the odds and arrive in South Korea faster than NGOs like Database Center for North Korean Human Rights can catalog their testimony. This week, the National Human Rights Commission of South Korea added more information to this still-incomplete picture, with a statistical analysis of the “crimes” that get people sent to prison camps in North Korea:
According to the report on North Korean human rights based on interviews with 800 North Korean defectors, the most common reason for imprisonment accounting for 23.7 percent of 278 inmates was escaping in search of food and work.
People who aided and abetted defectors were also imprisoned. Some were sent to the camps for receiving money sent from a family member who had defected to South Korea. About 16.2 percent had made critical comments about the regime or praised South Korea and the West.
Of these, some were imprisoned for criticizing dead leader Kim Jong-il or speaking truthfully about the poor quality of hospitals in the North. Even a comment like “I want to live in another country” can get people sent to the camps.
Another 15.8 percent were in the camps through guilt by association. One inmate was there because his father forgot to refer to nation founder Kim Il-sung by the honorific “Great Leader.”
There are five confirmed cases of people being imprisoned for Christian worship. Only 64 cases or 23 percent involved people accepting bribes, amassing slush funds, engaging in espionage or committing other serious offenses, according to the report. [Chosun Ilbo]
More here. For those who are irresponsible enough to visit North Korea at all, here’s a reminder not to compound your irresponsibility by endangering people you meet there:
Other offences were even more trivial, it says: one female former student was serving a term for having a western-style dance with a foreigner, another student was incarcerated for singing a South Korean song. [AFP]
Here’s a news tip for the AP’s Pyongyang Bureau — by the way, has anyone heard from them lately? In any event, this seems very newsworthy, merits further investigation by professional journalists, and is alleged to have happened within convenient driving distance of Pyongyang. Granted, the report is a few years old, but I keep hearing reports from my NGO contacts that the camp is still there, and still a horrible place to end up:
Last month a group called the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea estimated that 400,000 inmates of the camps have died in the past few decades from starvation, overwork or execution.
The South Korean report quotes one woman as saying 3,721 inmates died from January to June in 2005 at the Jeungsan prison in South Pyongan province.
The South Korean Human Rights Commission was a global laughingstock not too many years ago. Today, it is doing work worthy of its name. I wish I could say the same of our own government’s Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea.