In a hearing before members of Congress, victims of North Korea’s human rights abuses and experts on the dictatorship’s harsh practices asked for support in bringing an end to the country’s harsh treatment of political dissenters.
Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the House subcommittee on global human rights, explained in a June 18 hearing that “in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we see a state that seeks to control all aspects of the lives of its citizens, not only their political lives, but also that innermost sanctuary we call conscience as well,” using starvation, torture, imprisonment and death against political and religious dissidents of the totalitarian, atheistic stance of the North Korean government.
“Enough is enough. We need to do far more,” Smith urged.
The hearing, entitled “Human Rights Abuses and Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea”, featured testimony from Lee Jong-hoon, South Korea's Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights; Andrew Natsios, co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea; Shin Chang-Hoon, director of the Center for Global Governance Asian Institute for Policy Studies; and Shin Dong-hyuk, a survivor of a North Korean prison camp.
“My situation is one where I cannot go back to my home” explained Shin, who escaped from the prison camp he was born in as well as the country of North Korea eight years ago.
He spoke of a life “not fit for human beings or even for animals”, where his first memories were of guards in uniform carrying guns, and being taught by those guards to distrust his parents, who were political prisoners.
“As soon as I was born, I too became a political prisoner as well,” he said, saying that he and other children of political prisoners were required by guards “to pay for our crimes” in the work camps.
“We could only eat the things given to us, we could only wear the things given to us, and we could only doing the work given to us by the prison officials.”
When he was 14, Shin reported his mother and older brother, who were considering escape.“I was rewarded with terribly indescribable and cruel torture,” he said, and his mother and brother were publicly executed.
“The torture I bared, the scars I earned from that time, I still bear today.”
“I am here to exhort all of you to save my brothers and sisters who are dying,” Shin added, saying that U.S. government and international institutions are capable of helping the people of North Korea.
Lee stated that around the globe, “there has to be a much increased awareness of what’s going on.”
He said that specifically, the international human rights community should focus on increasing awareness about North Korea’s relationship with China. North Korea, Lee said, is “very dependent on China” for financial support, resources and food, and has the power to change the regime.
In addition, he noted, Chinese youth are starting to question their country’s support “of this state that’s an embarrassment to the world,” and the international community has a strong evidence to support saying that on the Korean Peninsula, a “peaceful and free unification is beneficial to China.”
Lee also advocated inventive ways of informing North Koreans of the outside world’s support, such as dropping in USB drives with documents on them.
Natsios urged the use of stronger language and international support, saying that current policy negotiations “have been an abject failure,” and that North Korea has continued its nuclear proliferation and human rights violations despite “moderately” phrased declarations decrying the regime’s tactics.
Smith praised the accuracy of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry report on North Korea, which said the country “does not content itself with ensuring the authoritarian rule of a small group of people, but seeks to dominate every aspect of its citizens’ lives and terrorizes them from within.”
“We have always lived in a wounded world, but today the tourniquets required to stop all the bleeding the world over would tax even the most compassionate of souls,” Smith contemplated.
“Yet it is precisely this exhaustion of compassion that we must fight against, and we must summon the necessary conviction to address the sufferings of the people of North Korea.”