The Hell Holes of North Korean Gulags


 LONDON, England - Today Amnesty International released a report claiming the North Korean camps for political prisoners are expanding in size.  A political prisoner in an interview recounted a horrific tale of histhree-year internment in the sprawling camp.

There is a global pandemic of human rights abuses from post conflict rape of women in Africa to collateral death of innocent people at the hands ofhomicide bombers of all persuasions. However, the systematic and organized machinery of suppression practiced in these North Korean internment camps recall the forced labor camp system of the former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) known as The Gulag.

The Gulag camp system was officially created on "April 25, 1930 and claims have been made that it was dismantled on January 13, 1960.  Wherever there is political oppression, lack of freedom of speech, and dissidence is viewed as sedition the conditions exist for internment camps to operate with relative impunity.

More than 14 million people passed through the Gulag from 1929 to 1953, with a further 6 to 7 million being deported and exiled to remote areas of the USSR. According to a 1993 study of incomplete archival Soviet data, a total of 1,053,829 people died in the Gulag from 1934 to 1953.

More complete data puts the death toll for this same time period at 1,258,537, with an estimated 1.6 million casualties from 1929 to 1953.These estimates exclude those who died shortly after their release but whose death resulted from the harsh treatment in the camps;such deaths happened frequently.The total population of the camps varied from 510,307 (in 1934) to 1,727,970 (in 1953).

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Published: 4 May 2011 (Page 2 of 2)

Most Gulag inmates were not political prisoners, although the political prisoner population was always significant. People could be imprisoned in a Gulag camp for crimes such as petty theft, unexcused absences from work, and anti-government jokes.About half of the political prisoners were sent to Gulag prison camps without trial; official data suggest that there were more than 2.6 million imprisonment sentences in cases investigated by the secret police, 1921-1953."(Source: Wikipedia)

Amnesty International asserts that there are currently about 200,000 people in the North Korean prison camps.  Critics counter that thesatellite photos do not prove that the areas identified actually show four of the six prison camps believed to exist in North Korea’s South Pyongyang, South Hamkyung and North Hamkyung provinces.

However, the former prisoner, Kyoung-il Jeong, who spent three years in the notorious Yodok prison camp, told western media: "The main reason for the deaths [in the prisons] was malnutrition. With such poorly prepared food people couldn't stand the harsh labor and died."

Kyoung-il Jeong testified that prisoners were fed 200 grams of corn gruel per daily and were often tossed into a cube-shaped "torture cell" where it was impossible to either stand or lie down.  Those caught trying to escape were often executed.

"Seeing people die happened frequently – every day." Jeong said. "When an officer told me to, I gathered some people and buried the bodies. After receiving extra food for the job, we felt glad rather than feeling sad."

"North Korea can no longer deny the undeniable," Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific director, said in a statement. "Hundreds of thousands of people exist with virtually no rights, treated essentially as slaves, in some of the worst circumstances we’ve documented in the last 50 years.”

Like the Gulags before them North Korean prison camps have been operating since the 1950s and can be divided into two types:  "total control zones" where inmates are detained forever without any proper trials; and "revolutionary zones" where conditions are more lenient.

As America wages war in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan it seems to have minimal bandwidth to tackle the internal human rights abuses inside North Korea's borders.  It seems instead to have chosen to invests its efforts in aligning international pressure to force the North Korean government to dismantle its nuclear arms program.

It is for this reason that organizations like Amnesty International play such a vital role in keeping human rights abuses in the forefront of our awareness.  I hope that you will take the time to view this powerful video interview with Kyoung-il Jeong.


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