Tales of woe - from the prison camps of North Korea

It is one of those Catch 22 paradoxes that human rights observers face; the worse a country is, the less you are likely to know about it. 

The drip feed of information from within North Korea, gives just a terrifying glimpse into the flood of human rights abuses being held behind the damn. It is nightmarish to imagine what we would know if we were able to see it all.  

There is a harrowing interview in the Independent today with Kim Hye-sook, one of the very few people held in one of North Korea’s prison camps, who has escaped to share her story with the world. 

She is one of 200,000 people that Amnesty estimates are being held in such a camp. In February, we released satellite images from some of the camps, which the North Korean government has long denied the existence of, and we compiled a fact file on each one, as substantially as we were able to. 

The picture was bleak – malnutrition, public execution, violent and inhumane punishment and forced labour. The death rate of inmates is huge.  

Kim Hye-sook, lost her mother, brother and grandmother whilst in the camp, to enforced labour and inadequate diet. 

Kim is one of the many innocent people held in such camps, under the practice of “guilt by association”, whereby family members are punished for the crimes, or insubordination of a relative, sometimes three or four generations at a time.  

Given the aggressively secretive nature of North Korea, the announcement a few weeks ago that AP are to open a comprehensive news bureau in Pyongyang, came as something of a jaw-dropping shock. We will be waiting on tenterhooks to see if the output from this bureau is stifled or marginalised, compared to the usual objective reporting on which the Associated Press has based its reputation. 

If it is able to operate freely there, than perhaps we should brace ourselves for a torrent of stories such as Kim Hye-sook’s. In the meantime, you can take action to end the horror of the camps, here. 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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