The camps in North Korea

1-1Term paper (10th wave international avatar)

Chang, Yoonhoo




The camps in North Korea


When I was searching for the current news on the Korean news website, I noticed one shocking title. The title was ‘His mother was hung, and his brother was shot in the head’. The article was about the man who escaped from the ‘camp 14’, the political prisoner camp which deals with condemned criminals and those who serve a life sentence. In the article and also in the book, the man talked precisely about what he has went through during the life in camp 14, and it was much more than I expected. Various kinds of old tortures were present, and prisoners were not treated as humans by the North Korean ‘prison guards’. After seeing several articles about different kinds of camps and what they do, I decided to choose the camp in North Korea as the topic of my paper. Since it is far most interesting topic for me recently, and also I hope at least a few people who read this paper know about the reality in North Korean camp and take the situation seriously. Several questions will be noted in the paper, and the final question I would ask to myself is, ‘what is the biggest problem and what is the possible solution?’.


The camps in North Korea are several, but the famous and well known camps are the camp 14 and the camp 15. The camp 14, 15 are both the prison of political prisoners, like most of the camps in North Korea are. The term ‘political prisoners’ means the ones who were influential to people by certain way, but opposed the ideology of their government. However in North Korea, many of the political prisoners are in the camp because of the crimes such as keeping the picture of the great leader in the wrong place, having a wrong ideology and talked about it in front of his or her friends or family members, talked about South Korea positively, or other reasons which the normal citizens of all countries would consider light. Currently there are more than 0.2million prisoners in the camp, and most of them are accused of the reasons listed.


Then, how are the these prisoners treated in the camps?

There were many books, articles, and videos about how the people are treated in the camps. I divided these sources into three categories. Living conditions, works, and tortures.


First, the living conditions. Living consists of house, clothing, and diet. There are not much information about the place where prisoners live. However, there were many sources about the clothing and the diet. Prisoners wear clothes which are made of rough clothes. According to the pictures drawn by one of the escapers from the camp, in the summer, they are half naked because there were lack of clothes, and women did not get a chance to wear basic underclothes. Also, the prisoners suffer from poor diet along with the lack of clothes. North Korea is recently having difficulties of obtaining food all over the country, and because of this, the prisoners, who used to have bad diet, are going through extreme shortage of food. Mr. An Myung Chul, one of the escapers from the camps, talked about it in his book ‘complete control line’ that the prisoners get only 100-200g of corn powder every day, and this is not enough for them to keep on living. He said because the prisoners are always hungry, they normally eat rats, snakes, lizards, and even feedstuff or droppings of pigs or cows. Since the prisoners are not considered as normal human beings but as animals in the camp, they cannot ask for more food.


Second, the works. The prisoners usually work for more than 10 hours per day. Their main jobs mentioned in the sources are fertilizing the land with human feces, build houses, or farm. Few photos are taken in the North Korea and broadcasted on the other country’s news, and the photos showed prisoners carrying a heavy tin pail which is full of feces. Also, during the interview with South Korean newspaper, Mr. Shin, who was born in the camp as a result of male prisoner and female prisoner sleeping together by the reward, talked about the ‘house building’ and ‘farming’. He remembers them as the cruel work which make many people injured during the process. There are several other jobs which varies from camps to camps, but the jobs are mostly unsanitary or very hard to do. Because the working condition is harsh and working hours are too many, prisoners usually end up being very weak. Malnutrition is added to this, so the average weight of the male prisoners are less than 46kg. When the weight goes under 38kg, which is frequent in the camps, prisoners expect that person to die.


Third, the tortures. Many tortures including very old ones are being done to prisoners in the camp for 50 years and now. In may circumstances, ‘hitting the prisoner for a long time’ method is used. The escapers said that once you got hit by the guards for a long time, later you won’t have any sense that you’re getting hit. Just the sound comes into the ear, and after that you faint. The most famous torture which is witnessed by Mr. Shin is ‘fire torture’. The famous illustration showed the prisoner who was hung on the ceiling, and the guards making fire under him. Because the fire is too close to the prisoner, it is hard not to get burnt by the torture. Mr. Shin has the inerasable scar from the torture he got in his early ages. Airplane torture, motorcycle torture, and crane torture, which is mimicking those devices for very long time, is also very famous tortures done in camps. Also, various kinds of sexual tortures are done especially to women, pregnant women, or even young girls. Pregnant women are treated especially cruelly, since being pregnant without the permission is a huge crime. Forced abortion is held in every case, and there were even the picture of male prisoners doing neolttwigi, which is Korean traditional game similar to see-sawing on the stomach of pregnant women.


Living in the camps is definitely painful, but the actual death in the camps can be considered more painful and cruel. As mentioned before, because of malnutrition, many prisoners die. In addition to this, public execution, which is held almost every day as an event in the camp, is the reason why there are so many dead bodies scattered around the land outside the camps. Public execution, which involves hanging and being shot in the head, is the most fearful thing to prisoners, but they attempt to run away every hour even though they know they are likely to be caught and executed.


North Korean government used to avoid talking about the camps and even now, they say that the camps do not exist. Because the camps are known as military bases or normal villages and looks like it, many believed that the camps did not exist. However, this is proven false by the escapers from the camps. Some wrote several books about the camps, one made musical, and many others talked about it in the interviews. Recently, people are getting aware of the camps. They think it is too cruel and goes against basic human rights. I think thinking about it is very important and needs to be done, but also, possible solutions needs to be discussed and the ideas of the North Korean government should also be questioned.


What is the problem with North Korean government?


North Korea is the communist country. The leader should be the most important person in the mind of all normal citizens, and the military should be strong. Many communist countries had the same ideology. They catch the ones who are against the ideology and punish them. The reason why they are doing cruel things in the camps is to scare the people so that no one questions about the ideology. Instead, they want citizens to just accept and follow the government so the government is firm without any disturbance. However, even though the government’s point is clear, they should have thought about ‘why’ there are so many ‘political’ prisoners in the camps. Many people are suffering from the hunger and poverty, but the government is doing almost nothing to solve the problem. Instead, to create modernized, positive image of the country, government build rockets, satellites, clean and modernized universities, large statues, and clean streets. Even though the image is important, the government should know what should be done first and what should be done next. North Korean government should understand the reason why people are turning negative toward the government in the first place, and rather than imprisoning them and torturing them, they should try to help the situation of the people to decrease the number of political criminals.


Then, after knowing about the problem, what can we do to stop inhumane actions in the camps? Or, what can we do to make camps disappear?


First, as I mentioned before, there should be attention of the people all over the world about the camp. I think in order to change the camps or make them disappear, the only way to do this is to make North Korean government think little bit differently. To do this, diplomatic actions need to take place. If not South Korea, then internationally. This is why I think the attention of the people is needed. The issue should be big enough to be discussed in the international organizations. I know in some cases, these are discussed, but still, no actions are taking place and not many campaigns are being made to announce the situation to people internationally. More books and articles, and TV campaigns should be written and made. People who are interested in the human rights and also know about the camps in North Korea should talk about it on their blogs, knowing maybe their actions can change the situation.


Second, North Korean leader should change his thought at least a little. I know that the North Korean governors are interested in the cultures outside their countries, and moreover, the leader Kim, Jung eun himself is interested in concerts in other countries. Even though now he acts very stubborn, I think he has a potential to change. China, which is the most influential country for North Korea, is the country which North Korea is cautious of. Many think that they are mostly like brothers and very polite to each other, but as Kim Jung-il, the previous leader of the North Korea stated in his last will, it is the country to be very aware of. If China is not that influential to North Korea, then that means North Korea has at least a little potential to open its firm gates to other countries. I know it may seem very unrealistic, but if international diplomat or South Korean diplomat politely, and continuously say something about the camps, probably they will notice the cruelty of the camps and make some changes.


Overall, the reality of the camps in North Korea, the problem in the North Korean government, and the possible solutions are discussed in the paper. I really believe the camps are against basic human rights, and needs to be changed. It gives me a feeling that the camps situation is similar to the Holocaust, happened in Germany. Nearly all the people who went through elementary education know about it, and says it is so cruel that it should never appear in world history, ever. But, it is happening right now in North Korea. To change the world into positive way by trying to preserve human rights in North Korea is very important. I hope many people know what is going on, spread the information once they get it, and think about other possible, or somewhat creative solutions.


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