Former DPRK Inmate: ``Nothing Is Surprising About North Korea``

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

By Mayako Shibata

Tokyo - (PanOrient News) "Nazis were killing Jews 60 years ago, while the Cambodian Pol Pot regime massacred their own people, genocide in Sudan… people think this is all in the past, but it is actually happening even today," said Mr. Shin Dong-hyuk, former inmate of North Korea's notorious Camp 14.

Shin was born in Camp 14 in 1982. His parents were both imprisoned as political prisoners. He witnessed human rights abuses on a daily basis, including torture, beating, death by starvation and public executions as punishment for even small infractions. He himself had his finger chopped off when he dropped a sewing machine.

At a press conference held in the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan in Tokyo on January 27th, Shin said the prisoners were treated, not as human beings, but as creatures whose value is below that of animals. "Even animals have a better life than the political prisoners. For example, rats can eat anything they find. They can go anywhere they want to go, unlike the prisoners."

Until he escaped from the prison in 2005, he did not know the world outside of Camp 14 at all. "I was born as a political prisoner, so my world was composed of only two elements: guards and prisoners. The last thing I saw at the Camp before I escaped was what I always saw my whole life," said Shin.

The news of the cruel execution of Jang Song Thaek, current ruler Kim Jong-un's own uncle, along with all his family members, shocked the world. An audience member raised a question asking if the situation in North Korea has gotten worse since Kim Jong-un succeeded power. Shin answered, "North Korea is governed by dictatorship. Once the dictator does not like you, it is not unusual that he would drag all your relatives with you to the concentration camp. Thus, what happened to Jang Sont Thaek and his family was nothing surprising. Everything is up to the dictator."

Today, he serves as a human rights activist, raising awareness about the inhumane life conditions imposed on people in North Korea. He called on the media and the international community to provide assistance to improve the situation there; however, he remains skeptical about many analysts' claim that the North Korean regime's collapse is near.

Referring to the UN Human Rights Council, he matter-of-factly said the organization has, across history, not done a single thing to solve the issues inside North Korea. International organizations, like the UN Human Rights Council, need to take further steps if they are really to solve these issues. I don't know what defines stronger engagement, but a big organization like the UN has to do something. If they don't do anything except just keep spending vast amounts of money, it is not worth having it."

He wrote a book in 2008 recounting his experiences at Camp 14, I Was Born in a Gulag, I Do Not Know Love. He has also participated in making documentary films, and his new work Born In a North Korean Concentration Camp will be aired in Japan on March 1, 2014.

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