North Korean prison camps and their horrors were explained to a United Nations committee by a group of escaped prisoners on Tuesday. Slave labor, beatings, torture, and brutal executions were all part of daily life in the camps, the defectors told the public. Their statements were made in South Korea, the first ever made before an expert panel of UN human rights investigators.
One of the speakers included Shin Dong-hyuk, perhaps the best known North Korean prison camp escapee. Shin was born in a prison, dubbed Camp 14, according to Reuters. He says that as a child, his earliest memory were of watching the executions of other prisoners. At a later age, he was forced to turn in his mother and brother, both later executed by guards.
New York Times reports that Shin once broke a piece of sewing machinery. Expecting severe punishment, maybe even death, Shin was relieved when the guards chose to only chop off one of his fingers.
Shin says executions are used frequently for even minor offenses. One incident he remembers was of a 7-year-old girl who was beaten to death after she was found stealing several grains of wheat to eat.
For those who survived the beatings and were not chosen for execution, starvation was a daily battle. Shin says that inmates in the North Korean prison camps are often so desperate and hungry that they will eat almost anything. He remembers prisoners devouring live rats. Another time, uncooked goat hooves were all guards would give prisoners, who gladly ate them.
Shin says that the prisoners are only seen as a source of labor. They are kept barely alive to work as much as possible before they are no longer useful, and killed.
Tuesday was the first of a five day hearing held by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Commission of Inquiry will be hearing from 30 people who have escaped the camps. They are hoping to shed light on what is likely a pattern of human rights abuses in North Korean prison camps.
[Image via ShutterStock]