North Korean Defector Reveals The Horrifying Conditions Inside Secretive State's Concentration Camps

'I Have Lived A Life That Cannot Be Told Without Tears'

This year, the world's media has been focused on North Korea's military threat, but what of the thousands left languishing in horrific conditions in the secretive state's network of hellish prison camps?

Concerns about abuses in the impoverished country have persisted for years, but have been largely overshadowed in international forums by fears over North Korea's attempts to become a nuclear weapons power.

Today, more than 200,000 men, women and children are thought to be locked up in the state run concentration camps where systematic torture, starvation and murder are daily occurrences and few are able to survive.

Sketches by survivors reveal the atrocities prisoners must suffer

This week, North Korean defectors told members of the UK Parliament about the dire human rights situation in their home land – providing the West with a rare opportunity for to learn more about the world's most closed nation.

A former prisoner, who now lives freely in South Korea, told The Huffington Post UK how she survived in one such camp, having suffered unfathomable atrocities first-hand.

Kim Young Soon survived unimaginable horrors at Yodok

Kim Young Soon spent nine years in Yodok, one of North Korea’s most notoriously brutal prison camps. Before her imprisonment, she was a celebrated and beautiful, young dancer who moved among the North Korean elite.

Being around the Kim Jong Il's inner circle – the father of North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong-Un – she learned simple facts about the man known as “Dear Leader”.

Ms Kim, now 77, was friends with another dancer who had an affair with Kim Jong-Il. Simply knowing about their relationship earned her a place at a concentration camp – along with her parents and children, who were deemed guilty by association.

Imprisoned in August 1970, She spent 9 years in the camp in total. North Korean civilians are sentenced to Yodok camp with zero knowledge of their crimes and Ms Kim only found out years later what her 'crime' had been.

"I have lived a life that cannot be told without tears," she said.

"I cannot talk of it without crying. My heart is torn," she describes in the haunting documentary Yodok Stories, which tells the story of how she, and other defectors, survived.

Kim Young Soon was imprisoned for nine tortuous years

Prisoners at the camps are forced to wake at 3:30am and go to work until dark before being forced to engage into revolutionary discussions and self-criticism, she describes.

Malnutrition and disease make it hard to survive, "your skin gets dark and cracked, you have no strength. I witnessed death every day," Ms Kim said. "The people do not look alive."

Ms Kim, along with numerous other defectors, have claimed that Yodok and other North Korean concentration camps have been modelled after Auschwitz under Kim Il-Sung’s reign.

"We were treated worse than animals," she said. "You simply cannot imagine the suffering."

By the time Mrs. Kim had escaped, her family, including her parents and her and eight-year-old son, had died from the harsh conditions.

"It breaks my heart that I now live my life in bliss, while my family died in that land of death," she said. "I cannot even visit their graves."

She described in horrifying detail how starving prisoners ate anything that “flew, crawled, or grew in the field.”

Children are born condemned, Ms Kim said, revealing how desperate mothers cut open pregnant rats to harvest their foetuses, roasting the tiny, hairless creatures, and feeding them to emaciated babies in the camp.

Other defectors have chillingly described how inmates look at people as animals that could be eaten. One Yodok survivor described instances where people, including a child, were taken, skinned and eaten.

Rape is commonplace at the camps, while pregnancy was often solved by execution. Knowing this, women would resort to desperate measures to abort their unborn children, without medical help.

Prisoners could not even resort to suicide, as such an act is a crime in North Korea, and their family would be rounded up and punished.

This week, Ms Kim was in London for North Korean Defectors' Week, which, supported by Amnesty International, aims to raise awareness of human rights abuses within North Korea.

In a report from 2011 conditions in North Korea were described as some of the worst Amnesty had encountered in five decades of work.

Worryingly, Amnesty says that, far from improving, the situation is getting worse, with shocking images released this year by the charity, revealing the North is expanding the camps where the prisoners are said to be held.

Analysis of new satellite images shows that the government is "blurring the lines" between its camps and surrounding civilians, Amnesty said.

The entirety of the North "is a huge prison cell," Ms. Kim said, at a time when the state is hoping to improve its tourism industry.

In a questionable effort to appeal to foreign visitors, the North has been building a ski resort among the squalid homes of its impoverished citizens.

A British company is even offering Christmas in Pyongyang.

Asked if she believes foreigners should visit the country that killed her family and kept her in cruel confinement, Ms Kim, smiles: "If the money goes to help the people of my country than yes, but we all know that will not happen."

The Body

Inside North Korea


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