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article imageNorth Korean defectors speak at human rights conference (video) Special

By Andrew Moran     Aug 20, 2010 in World
Toronto - Young-Cheol Kim and Mi-ran Kim both may have completely different backgrounds but they share the same stories. At the International Conference on North Korean Human Rights, the North Korean defectors discussed their horrifying experiences and escape.
Malnutrition, torture, severe punishment, executions, unsanitary conditions, prostitution, rape, violence, human trafficking, slavery and oppression are the key terms to describe the present situation in North Korea where violations of human rights continue to escalate and human suffering soars.
The conference
On Friday, during the International Conference on North Korean Human Rights at the University of Toronto, hosted by and executive board member of Han Voice, Randall Baran-Chong, two North Korean defectors provided emotional and horrendous detailed accounts to press agencies from around the world.
Young-Cheol Kim, a former officer of North Korea’s People’s Safety Agency (PSA), and Mi-ran Kim, a hairdresser from North Korea who is now a cleaner at a hospital, may have different backgrounds but the two victims of government tyranny and draconian laws share the same stories of escape and witnessing ghastly situations.
The two defectors may have fled the terrible conditions but Young-Cheol and Mi-ran still fear for their lives. Young-Cheol covered his entire face using a doctor’s mask, a pair of sunglasses and a baseball cap, while Mi-ran wore a hat, which made her face barely recognizable.
(From left to right) Host Randall Baran-Chong  Young-Cheol Kim  translator  Mi-ran Kim  Suk woo Kim
(From left to right) Host Randall Baran-Chong, Young-Cheol Kim, translator, Mi-ran Kim, Suk woo Kim
The purpose of the conference is to initiate international awareness of human rights violations of North Koreans. “North Korea’s human rights situation doesn’t just affect east Asia, but the entire world,” said Young-Cheol.
The North Korean government’s prison camps and policies towards its own people
According to four North Korean Human Rights briefing reports published in September 2009, the situation in North Korea is far worse than what is being reported in the mainstream media, including instances of wrongful executions, public officials using young female detainees for sexual pleasure and the barbaric killings of foetuses.
There are numerous prison camps, otherwise known as gulags, located all over the country, including Yodeok, Onseong, Gaecheon, Hoeryeong and elsewhere. Each camp holds between approximately 3,000 and 25,000 detainees, which of whom are political dissidents and their families, religious leaders, criminals who have been accused of any type of crime, including owning “DVDs from capitalist societies,” high-ranking bureaucrats who opposed Kim Il-sung’s regime and many others.
“The most cruel places in North Korea and in the world are the concentration camps in the mountains,” said Sub Representative of No Fence based in Japan, Haruhisa Ogawa. “There are six.”
“It is assumed that this wave of detentions was related to attempts to strengthen internal control during the 1990s in response to the fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe,” states The Last Outpost of Slavery of the past XX Century.
When discussing the prison camps, Mi-ran says: “Life in prison is life without humanity.”
These detention facilities have been the places where detainees work excessive hours – prisoners wake up at 5 a.m. (sometimes 4 a.m.) to eat breakfast, leave for work at 7 a.m., work in the mines from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a 30-minute lunch break (sometimes if production targets were not met, they’d have to work 15 hours) and some camps were forced to do this seven days a week – fed between 20 and 30 grains of corn with a bowl of soup that was just cabbage and salt – if caught attempting to find mice, worms, wastewater, pig silage or bark from trees, they’d be severely punished or put to death – and tortured.
There are a variety of forms of punishment in these camps. In one method, a detainee is forced to sit on their knees with a four-angled rule under their legs in order to cut blood circulation. If a prisoner moves or disobeys then they are severely beaten.
Another form of punishment is the removal of food (a daily diet consists of 100 grams of mixed-bean rice). “The detainees are forced to endure relentless pain in their legs, which then start to rot and decay, eventually leading to their death within five months.”
Female detainees, depending on their age and attractiveness, experience different kinds of punishment, sometimes even more severe. According to one detainee at Camp No. 14, there is a special guesthouse where high-ranking ministers stay and choose female detainees to have sexual intercourse with.
Due to sexual scandals throughout the 1990s, all good-looking detainees were executed, which led to the deaths of approximately 250.
The International Conference on North Korean Human Rights at the University of Toronto.
The International Conference on North Korean Human Rights at the University of Toronto.
One scandal included an instructor who believed all of his female detainees were his “sexual playthings.” However, one of the female statisticians became pregnant. Officers had found out about this, opened her abdomen, grabbed the foetus and “trampled on it.” Moments later, the men put in a metal rod into her sexual organs and electrocuted her.
Canada’s response to the conference
Even though Canadian public officials were not in attendance at Friday’s conference, some still were able to write congratulatory messages to the conference, including Governor General Michaelle Jean, Member of Parliament Jason Kenney and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
“For many years, Canada has served as a welcoming home for refugees seeking a new start for themselves and for their families,” wrote the Canadian Governor General. “Newcomers cannot help but notice that the values of freedom justice and respect for human rights are very dear to all those who live in Canada.”
Co-host Randall Baran Chong
Co-host Randall Baran Chong
“Like everyone here, I firmly believe that all people deserve to live in a society where citizens are treated justly and with dignity,” said McGuinty. “This conference provides an ideal opportunity to for policy makers, academics, advocates and ordinary citizens to discuss human rights in North Korea, to share ideas and to foster the networks so vital to the success of human rights advocacy.”
The final words of Young-Cheol Kim and Mi-ran Kim
In written testimony provided to Digital Journal, the two defectors gave some final words and wishes to the international community. Their final statements urge the world to not turn a blind eye to the human rights being eroded in North Korea and the brutal situation that persists.
“Although the South Korean government and the international society are trying their best to improve the human rights situation in North Korea, all Kim Jong-Il cares for [are] no opinions other than China’s,” writes Young-Cheol. “What Kim Jung-Ill fears more than anything is China cutting off its aid to North Korea.” He further adds that the North Korean leader would care if North Koreans starve.
“Even if we are from different nations, I cannot understand how the Chinese can be so cold-hearted as to arrest defectors when all they want is a bowl of rice gruel to eat,” writes Mi-ran. “I hope there will soon be an end to cases such as offering 500 Yuan to people reporting North Korean defectors.”
The conference continues on Saturday at the Isabel Bader Theatre in midtown Toronto, which is organized by Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights and Han Voice. The nine-hour event will include speeches from Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler, Member of Parliament Barry Devolin and many others involved in the awareness initiative.
Please note: The video above does not show the faces of the individuals because the hosts asked the members of the press to either not show their faces or to blur it out. Also please visit this video link, which provides 13 minutes of the question and answer period after their testimonies.
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