Two Survivors from North Korean Prison Camps Speak at UN, FCO and EU

Thursday, April 7, 2005

April 7, 2005 (Christian Solidarity Worldwide) -- Two survivors of the North Korean prison camps have spoken at the UN Commission on Human Rights, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and at the EU.

The two survivors, who are Christians, were imprisoned at the Yodok Political Prison Camp and suffered appalling abuses.

Kim Tae Jin, 49, initially defected to China in 1986 to escape North Korea. Whilst in China he became a Christian, an act attracting severe penalties in North Korea. After 16 months he was repatriated by the Chinese authorities and a Bible was discovered in his belongings. He suffered severe torture and interrogation in the eight months following his return, to the extent that he swallowed a nail, preferring to undergo an operation than stay in the cell. He was subsequently imprisoned without trial in Yodok Political Prison Camp (No 15) where he experienced barbarous treatment, including being beaten with burning wood. He was forced to carry out hard labour on minimal food intake and beaten unconscious when too weak to carry out his tasks. He survived the imprisonment and eventually defected again, arriving in South Korea in June 2001. He is now Director of Missionary Works at NKGulag and Chairman of the Special Committee for North Korean Gulag Dismantlement. He is also currently studying at Chongshin University, a theological school in South Korea.

He said: “In a political prison camp in North Korea, one must forget that he or she is a human being. I had to do many things to survive. I carefully watched a dog so that I could steal its food. I ate snakes, frogs, rats and anything that could be a source of nutrition.”

He added: “My prayer is that the situation in North Korea will be improved by your prayers, partnership and advocacy in both national and international arenas. I want to thank CSW for giving us this opportunity to speak.”

Kim Young Soon, 67, was arrested by the North Korean security forces after they disappeared her husband. She and her four children were imprisoned in Yodok Political Prison Camp (No 15) solely as a punishment for their association with him. She spent eight years in the camp, from 1970-8, enduring conditions of forced labour, regular physical and verbal abuse, ideological indoctrination and severe degradation. She describes the camp as “a living hell where prisoners were treated as less than animals”. Her father, mother and youngest son perished in the camp. Her second son was executed after an unsuccessful attempt to escape from North Korea and her eldest son become disabled as a result of his imprisonment. She has never seen her husband since his disappearance. She eventually fled North Korea and arrived in South Korea in November 2003. She is now a member of the Operations Committee of NKGulag, a human rights agency representing survivors of the political prison camps.

She said: “I had to go through the tremendous pain of losing family members, which was much more painful than being killed myself. The pain and suffering I have described is still shared by many people in North Korea, even today.”

At the UN parallel meeting, along with hearing from the prison camp survivors, the first ever video footage of public executions in North Korea was shown. In addition, a list of more than 600 individuals who have disappeared into the North Korean gulag was revealed. Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Bill Rammell MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, with responsibility for North Korea and global human rights issues, also spoke at the meeting at the UN on March 31.

Bill Rammell MP chaired a joint CSW/FCO press conference at the Foreign Office on April 4. He explained that since his visit in September, during which he had raised human rights concerns, the situation had if anything, actually got worse.

At Brussels the two survivors met with MEPs and members of the European Commission’s human rights unit.

There are estimated to be more than 100,000 prisoners held in such prison camps in North Korea and Christian Solidarity Worldwide was at the UNCHR, the FCO and the EU to ensure that pressure is put on the North Korean regime to improve its human rights record.

In 2003 CSW successfully lobbied the UNCHR which passed a resolution condemning North Korean human rights abuses and last year CSW lobbying contributed to the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights.

Stuart Windsor, CSW’s National Director, said: “It is vital the international community hears the truth about conditions inside the prison camps of North Korea. These two survivors need to be heard by the world as they share the horrors of the conditions they endured. The UNCHR, the FCO and the EU must do all they can to ensure the end of these political prison camps and all the human suffering that happens in them. We now have unprecedented filmed evidence of what defectors have been telling us for years about the use of public executions, which adds further impetus to the urgent need to address the human rights situation in North Korea.”