Protecting Fundamental Freedoms

Essential Christmas reading for governments and policy makers

HLworldmapOn 10 December – international human rights day – the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG) published the findings of its Parliamentary Inquiry into persecution in North Korea. The report, Religion and Belief in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, includes witness accounts of the horrific human rights abuses suffered by religious and belief minorities in the country, which often go unheard because of the secrecy of the regime.

It concludes: “The DPRK systematically oppresses freedom of religion or belief, and Christians in particular are targeted by the regime and subjected to chronic human rights abuses, amounting to crimes against humanity.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to the British Government, including that it continue pursuing the referral of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea to the International Criminal Court to account for its treatment of its citizens.

It also recommends that the UK invest in long-term strategic engagement with North Korea. Some of the practical suggestions include: educational exchanges, investing in the 30,000 North Korean people who have managed to escape, breaking the information blockade, critical engagement on human rights and the re-instigation of the ‘Six Party Talks’. Further, it urges the BBC World Service to establish a radio broadcast to the Korean Peninsula, in both English and Korean languages, giving citizens a window out of their closed world.

The report was launched at a meeting chaired by Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Vice Chair of the APPG on North Korea. Those present heard of routine, horrific suffering at the hands of the DPRK state, with the Rev. Stuart Windsor, of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, sharing that “Between 1997 and 2007 an estimated one million North Koreans died or were killed in prison while the West has been silent”. The meeting also heard of the ingrained suspicion of religion from Kim, Joo-il, who told how “In North Korea, anti-religious education starts at six-seven years – people are taught to antagonise religion”. While Zoe Smith, of Open Doors UK & Ireland, highlighted a strong message of the APPG’s report, that the current situation in the DPRK “needs the ‘world citizen’ to step up to the table and say ‘enough’s enough’. Change is needed.”

Baroness Berridge, chairman of the APPG, commented: “For the past sixty-plus years, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea has committed egregious human rights violations – the details of which would turn the stomach of even the most hardened person. This includes banishing those who follow a religion to remote places, incarcerating them, subjecting them to torture in labour camps, and murdering Christians for merely possessing a Bible…For many years North Korea has been viewed as an impossible case, but now the international community is finally beginning to afford the country the attention its people so desperately need.”

Lord Alton, chairman of the APPG on North Korea and Vice-chair of the APPG on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, highlighted that “Christmas spent in a North Korean gulag will be just another day of grotesque suffering”, concluding that “We who enjoy political and religious freedom; free to practice our faith; free to celebrate Christmas with our loved ones, must speak out and take practical actions to help bring the long winter of oppression to an end. This report should be essential Christmas reading for Governments, MPs, and policy makers”.

Download the Full Report (PDF) | Download the Executive Summary (PDF)

Eyewitness: A North Korean refugee’s story of life in a gulag

The only escapee of North Koreas most brutal prison camp has lived to tell us a story of unspeakable horror. Starved of food and common humanity, Shin proves that gulags are still a tragic reality.

“We were always hungry. Shins most vivid memory of his life in the camp is the constant hunger he felt, food made me escape, even if it was going to cost me my life. The only thing that interested me was the food. Before his escape three years ago, he didnt even know that a world existed beyond the barbed wires. Until then, his life had been one of torture, hard labour and complete isolation. My mother was supposed to inform on me and me on her. He believed she deserved her fate as he witnessed her execution. I blamed her. I had no real feelings as a kid. Shin didnt know love, only violence. Once the guards beat a little girl on the head so hard, she died the next day. He eventually escaped through a gap in a high-voltage fence. His charred legs still bear the scars. As horrible as it is, Shins story is not unique. Wang, himself a former prisoner, is a prominent writer on the subject. He believes that oppression in North Korea will keep increasing: The brutality of the system has grown to the point where Kim Jong Il now fears that he will suffer the same fate as Caucescu of Romania. He simply wants to kill all his enemies.”

North Korean camp survivor: ‘Worse than life as a dog’ – The Guardian UK video

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The Great Escape?

With the difficulty of seeking refuge to the South and seemingly no liberation on the horizon from the West, Many North Koreans chose to flee via China and its embassies in North Korea. As this documentary produced by ABC Australia and distributed by Journeyman Pictures reveals, the escape can be tantamount to leaping from the frying pan into the fire.

 

A modern-day Mauthausen: Camp 22

It has long been purported that a North Korean prison is no more a prison than were Auschwitz, Treblinka or Mauthausen. And like those camps, Pukchang, Yodok and Hoeryong are quickly becoming common lexicon in the discussion of a modern haulocust largely hidden from the west until recently.

Below are a three short clips revealing what we can now extrapolate about these camps from the eyewitness accounts of a former guard and former prisoners at the Hoeryong political prison camp, commonly refered to as “Camp 22”.

The first video captures a prison guard’s account; the second is an account from a younger prisoner who had escaped, the third comes from a former chief guard and the last video is an account from a man born and raised in the camps.