Dong-hyuk Shin, advocate for human rights in North Korea and former prisoner at the notorious “Camp 14” North Korean labor camp, addresses the 5th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
Dong-hyuk Shin: If they complain, they could be submitted to a public execution in front of other prisoners. During my life in the camp for 24 years, I haven’t seen a single person who complained about the hardships in the camp.
Our life in the camp was inexplicable. We had to obey throughout our life and we could not stop working from the moment we open our eyes in the morning until we close them at night. We had to finish our work distributed for the day no matter what happens. Even if we are sick, we cannot go see a doctor; we cannot even dare say that we are sick. The authorities told us that no matter how [sick we are], we should rather continue working and die in that workplace.
When I escaped and saw North Korean society outside the camp for the first time the next day, it was like paradise. The North Korean society that I first saw was a place where people really freely walked around, slept and chatted, and ate as much as they wanted. So I thought that the North Korean Society outside the camp was incomparably better. But it was only after I came to South Korea that I realized that I was wrong. I realized that the whole society of North Korea was not different from a hell.
In the whole society of North Korea, such words like human rights do not even seem to exist. This reality is really heartbreaking. The last thing that I would like to ask you, I think the best way to resolve this kind of problem, is that the prisoners themselves of the camp have to stand up by themselves. But nevertheless, in reality, it is not possible because the prisoners themselves cannot have such consciousness. That is why I am here to ask you to support us and realize our situation.
Moderator, Mateo Mecacci: Thank you. I think the story you’ve told us is a story that is common to many people but is unfortunately unknown to many more people. So we hope that this opportunity will in a way help those who are still in those conditions to get some kind of support from the International Community, from NGOs, and politicians who have some attentions for these values that too often in these cases are just forgotten. I think it’s not something that a so-called civilized world can afford.
Thank you for being here with us and I hope there will be others who will be interested in bringing your message into the work that we do every day.