Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tortured, beaten, starved: life in a Korean gulag

Good to hear from our good friend Greg Scarlatoiu who knows a thing or two about Human Rights in north Korea.

Tortured, beaten, starved: life in a Korean gulag

Tortured, beaten, starved: life in a Korean gulag
Thousands of people are worked and tortured to death in North Korean gulags every year. Executive Director of the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea Greg Scarlatoiu tells DW about their living conditions.

As many as 200,000 people are believed to be locked up in North Korean gulags. But that's just an estimate. How difficult is it to get reliable information?

The information that we have comes from former prisoners and former guards, for example, Shin Dong-Hyuk, the hero of the escape from Camp 14, a young man who was born in the gulag and lived there until the age of 23 when he managed to escape. Mr. Ahn Myong-Chol was a prison guard at Camp 22 in Hoeryong and a driver at the camps. He was there between 1990 and 1994. He is the one who reported that prisoners had been used for human experimentation inside the camps. This information comes not only from former prisoners and guards but also from former employees - North Korea's internal intelligence agencies, the agencies that manage the camps. For example, the number that you mentioned between 150,000 and 200,000 has been confirmed by former officials of North Korea's state security department who defected to South Korea and who were debriefed by South Korean intelligence. Also, the information that we get is cross-checked with satellite imagery. It is amazing to see how the information provided by former prisoners can actually be identified. They identify the structures there, they can recognize, for example, their sleeping quarters, a building that was used as detention and interrogation facility. So these are the means that we have at our disposal.

So how big would you say is the part of the overall picture that is still unknown or guess work?

Well, I would say that we have a fairly clear idea. There are things we know for sure: that the camps exist, the population of the camps is between 150,00 and 200,000; massive human rights violations happen at these facilities, that we know for sure. We also know there are different types of facilities and that the level of seclusion might be different; there are facilities called "total control zones." People who are held there have no chance of getting out. Those are very rare occurrences. So we know many things for certain. There are also things we don't know for certain. We know that the death rate inside these camps is absolutely astounding. Every witness you talk to has seen someone die next to him or her. It almost seems that some of the work units inside the camps lose a third or half of their members due to forced labor, induced malnutrition, torture, beatings - due to the horrifying conditions inside the camps. So we know that the death rates are high but what we don't know for sure is whether new arrivals, new prisoners, make up for the number of those who have died. So in other words, if 2,000 prisoners die at a given camp during one year, we're not sure if 2,000 new prisoners are brought to the camp. And that would have a direct impact on the number of prisoners being held there. The number that we still work with is 150,000 to 200,000. Some of our colleagues in South Korea have signaled that due to the astoundingly high death rates at the camps, the number might have declined. But we are not sure and in the process of verifying the information. We know that these abuses are terrible but probably we have barely scratched the surface. The number of witnesses we've talked to is very limited. One day, we will learn the full truth about these facilities and it will be terrible.

What kind of torture is applied to the prisoners?
(Continued at the link below)

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