By Tim O'Shea
The question of military conflict with North Korea has been flooded with possible justifications for action, from its nuclear brinksmanship, to imprisonment of American citizens and even remnants of anti – Communist containment. But it might just be the most important reason of all that isn’t getting media attention.
Prison camps have seen widespread use in North Korea for everything from “prisoners of war” to political dissidents to the families of anyone the government deems dangerous. And the tales that have slipped through the barb – wire fences of the camps have started to gain traction in the international community. Shin Dong – hyuk was born and raised in a political prison, and managed to escape the camp and tell his story to the world in his book “Escape From Camp 14”, a bestseller translated into twenty four languages. The memories he recalls to journalists are ones of fierce psychological atrocities against the prisoners. For instance, incentives such as food were so strong that they drove people to report any conspiracy of escape to the camp officials, often resulting in executions. Escaped prisoner Ji Hae Nam explained that prisoners also went through hours of hard labor and mandatory self – criticism meant to break down their spirits and make them subdue to the regime.
As more than sixty defectors have corroborated, the camps are a malnourished nightmare. David R. Hawk from the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea reported in “The Hidden Gulag” that according to eyewitness accounts, 70% of prisoners in Camp 1 suffered from malnutrition and a fifth of the population died as a result of inadequate rations. Camp Fourteen, where Shin was born, is a particularly underfed and brutal camp. One prisoner named Kim Chul Min was killed after it was discovered he gathered chestnuts for nutrition and Kal Li Yong was beaten to death with a stick after attempting to eat the leather from a whip. And it hasn’t just been prisoners telling their stories. In an interview with NBC, former guard Ayn Myong Chol described the procedures used by the guards. One incentive scheme used to control guards involved paying for a college education if a guard killed an escapee. Besides resulting in the beatings of any who misbehaved in an attempt to gain distinction, Ayn revealed that a fellow guard forced a man to escape so he could kill him before going to college. In summation, Ayn says that “They are not treated as human beings; they are just like dogs or pigs”.
The silver lining is that the desire for action has begun to build. Shin and another escaped prisoner met with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in December, and three months later the U.N. announced the creation of an investigation into human rights abuses in North Korea. While it is important not to use these grievous acts as an excuse for war – mongering, it represents an opportunity to fight for the people of North Korea rather than engage in conversation only with the upper tiers of the government. After all, any action against the hermit country must be wary of the fact that many people of the country are not the loyal supporters broadcasted on the propaganda networks, but victims of systematic psychological repression that deserve their freedom.