Aug 20 2013
Public executions and torture are daily occurrences in North Korea’s prisons, according to testimony from former inmates at a UN commission of inquiry that opened in Seoul on Tuesday.
It is the first time Pyongyang’s human rights record has been examined by an expert panel. It denies that it abuses human rights, refuses to recognise the commission and has blocked access to investigators.
Harrowing accounts from defectors now living in South Korea related how guards chopped off a man’s finger, forced inmates to eat frogs and a mother to kill her own baby.
“I had no idea at all … I thought my whole hand was going to be cut off at the wrist, so I felt thankful and grateful that only my finger was cut off,” said Shin Dong-hyuk, punished for dropping a sewing machine.
Born in a prison called Camp 14 and forced to watch the execution of his mother and brother whom he turned in for his own survival, Shin is North Korea’s best-known defector and camp survivor. He said he believed the UN panel was the only way to improve human rights in the isolated and impoverished state.
“Because the North Korean people cannot stand up with guns like Libya and Syria … I personally think this is the first and last hope left,” Shin said. “There is a lot for them to cover up, even though they don’t admit to anything.”
There are 150,000 to 200,000 people in North Korean prison camps, according to independent estimates, and defectors say many inmates are malnourished or worked to death.