Did you know, for example, that there are currently five active concentration camps in North Korea, and that on a daily basis, the estimated 400,000 prisoners who are held there experience and witness rape, slavery, unexplained 'disappearances', public murders, dismemberment, gas chamber execution, and horrific torture?
Or that the North Korean government practices infanticide within these camps, both by testing its nuclear weapons on infants and by performing forced abortions on women who become pregnant as a result of being raped by guards?
This in itself may seem shocking enough, however the situation becomes even more distressful once you understand the reasons that people are sent to these camps. In a haunting replica of Nazi practices during the Holocaust, the North Korean regime kidnaps, enslaves and tortures its own citizens if they are found to have disrespected the country, the government or its policies in any way.
This, however, is not as simple as restricting people's right to protest or ask for food. A method of thought-control is also enforced; if a person is assumed or reported to have been thinking a thought that can be classified as not being in line with government propaganda, then they are sentenced to a lifetime of forced labor in one of the concentration camps. Further, it is not only the 'guilty' individual that is punished; three generations of the 'perpetrators' family are also imprisoned in order to meet the government's genocidal policy of keeping the North Korean bloodline pure and free of 'enemies'.
Can you imagine waking up tomorrow and knowing that not only you, but your parents, siblings, children and grandchildren, would be sent to a concentration camp if you made an unguarded remark about being hungry, or sang a line from a South Korean pop song, or accidentally looked displeased about a new government policy that further restricted your freedom and rights?
The situation in North Korea is obviously far more complex than I can even attempt to explain in a blog post. Over the next few months, as I work with LiNK (Liberty in North Korea, a non-profit organisation based int he USA) to raise awareness and funding to help people escape from the brutal world of North Korea, I will share with you as much information and as many stories as I can. It is my hope that you too will be inspired to change the future for the people of North Korea, whether through supporting my Nomad project, donating regularly to LiNK or spreading the word about the atrocities you now know of. Check out a list of how to get involved at the bottom of this post!
A North Korean woman, Lee Sun-hee, is forcefully dragged away from her daughter and from freedom whilst attempting to enter the South Korean embassy in China in order to avoid being tortured, imprisoned or executed (link to full story).
In the meantime, below is some more in-depth information regarding North Korea. There is further information available from Wikipedia, Google, the LiNK website, YouTube and other sources regarding North Korea, the Concentration Camps, the Human Rights abuses, and stories shared by North Korean defectors and survivors.
Government: Centralised Communist state. One-man, one-party Dictatorship of "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il and the Korean Workers' Party
Population: 22.7 million
Lack of Fundamental Freedoms: The North Korean government prohibits freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. Not only wrong-doers, but "wrong-thinkers," are punished, the press is centrally controlled, and there is virtually no access to outside information. Freedom of religion, physical movement, and workers' rights are also severely restricted. Human rights monitors are banned from the country, as are radio or internet communications between citizens and outsiders.
Loyalty Groups: The North Korean government divides its citizens into three castes based on their perceived loyalty to the Dear Leader: "core" (haeksim kyechung), "wavering" (tongyo kyechung), and "hostile" (joktae kyechung). Most of the wealth is concentrated among the "core," while the "hostile"- a category that includes all members of minority faiths, as well as descendants of perceived 'enemies of the state'- are denied employment and subject to starvation.
Enforcing Patriotism: The North Korean government enforces loyalty and obedience through its Ministry of People's Security, which requires citizens (including family members) to spy on each other. Anyone who is overheard saying anything perceived as critical to the government is subject to a reduced loyalty group rating, torture, execution, or imprisonment in one of North Korea's brutal concentration camps.
Controlling the Flow of Information: All radio and television stations, newspapers and magazines, and church sermons are government-controlled and focus on praise of the Dear Leader. Anyone who makes contact with foreigners in any way, or listens to foreign radio stations (some of which are accessible in North Korea), is in danger of any of the penalties described above. Traveling outside of North Korea is also forbidden, and can carry a penalty of death.
Food Crisis: Over one million people perished in the devastating famine in the mid-1990s due to natural disasters, the collapse of the PDS (Public Distribution System) and gross government neglect and mismanagement. In 2010, 33% of the population is undernourished, 23% of children under the age of five are underweight, and a near-total breakdown in the public health system has left an entire generation of children physically and mentally impaired. The World Food Programme has estimated that 6.2 million North Koreans are short of food. Malnourished Children: 37% stunted, 23% underweight, and 7% wasted (World Food Programme, 2004).
Political Concentration Camps: Currently, over 200,000 "violators" are overworked, tortured, raped or publicly executed in political prison camps across the country. There are five major prison camps in North Korea, verified by corroborating testimonies of North Korean defectors and satellite images. Up to 3 generations of each family are imprisoned, including children, because a relative had committed a crime such as expressing disloyalty to the government. Conditions in the camps are extremely harsh and systematic and widespread human rights abuses occur. Most prisoners are not expected to survive due to such extreme conditions, and approximately 25% die in the first year. Some reports have estimated that more than 400,000 prisoners may have already died in this system.
Crimes Against Humanity: Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines 11 categories of acts that constitute crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation/forcible transfer of population, imprisonment, torture, rape/sexual slavery/enforced prostitution, persecution, and enforced disappearance of persons, apartheid, and other inhumane acts. With the exception of apartheid, every single one of these crimes against humanity is being committed on a systematic basis in North Korean political prisons.
Contracted Labor: North Korea maintains labor contracts with countries through government entities and foreign firms. North Korean laborers who work under such arrangements are denied freedom of movement and a large portion of their salaries are deposited into government accounts. There are an estimated 10,000 to 70,000 North Korean laborers worldwide and many are subjected to harsh conditions in jobs involving construction and logging.
Over 80% of North Korean refugees, the majority of whom are women and children, are victims of human trafficking in China. Within North Korea, children are routinely forced into child labor, and are subject to extremely abusive or dangerous situation; women, on the other hand, are trafficked for sex.
South Korean Political Stance: The South Korean Constitution recognizes all North Korean defectors as South Korean citizens. The South Korean government previously promoted a policy of rapprochement with the North, during the course of which human rights were severely neglected. Inter-Korean relations have sharply deteriorated under President Lee Myung-bak's administration. At the outset of his term, Lee advocated a policy of increased reciprocity and improvements of human rights. The North subsequently cut off official dialogue and demanded that Lee implement agreements reached in the 2000 and 2007 Summits. However, when Lee expressed a willingness to engage, tensions increased after a South Korean citizen was shot and killed at the North Korean Mount Geumgang resort on July 11, 2008.
North Korean Official Stance: The North Korean government categorically denies any human rights violations within the DPRK and maintains that the “people-centered socialist system” champions the rights of its people. North Korean officials have claimed that “the customary allegations [of human rights violations] based on unsubstantiated information are a part of a parcel of the US policy of isolating and stifling the DPRK.”
GET INVOLVED AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
So, now that you know all about the crimes against humanity that are being perpetrated in North Korea, what can you do about it? It's easy- get involved! You can:
- Learn even more about North Korea and what's being done to change the situation at the LiNK website
- Come along to one of our fundraisers- either a craft class or a movie night- and help raise much-needed funds to support my LiNK Nomad Project (whilst also having a great time!)
- If you can't come along but still want to make a difference, donate! Even $5 can make a difference, and most of us have that to spare. I'm accepting donations of all sizes for my Nomad Project via PayPal- simply click on the link below! (EFTPOS, Bank Cards, Credit Cards and PayPal Account payments are accepted)
- Speaking of donations, LiNK are always looking for one-off and longer-term supporters to help more people escape from North Korea and start new lives elsewhere.
- Become a follower of thatLiNKproject to stay up-to-date with what's happening
- Spread the word! Let your friends and family know about how much the North Korean situation has shocked you, point them to the LiNK website, or grab them by the wrist and bring them along to one of the fundraisers!