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North Korea’s human rights abuses are too brutal for students to be apathetic

The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK) is trying to highlight the gross human rights violations being committed by Kim Jong-un’s regime.

By pressuring governments, organising events and improving the standard of media reporting on the nation, EAHRNK hopes to alleviate the crisis. An EAHRNK society will run at Nottingham this year. The society will be blogging, campaigning, hosting guest speakers and running debates.

In an era of liberal democracy, North Korea is widely held to be a figure of folly. For many of us, the nation is merely the centre piece of a big-budget film depicting enormous missiles, funny accents and self-aggrandizing statues.

But for the citizens of North Korea, life is far from entertainment. North Koreans face systematic human rights abuses unbefitting of our purportedly civilised global order. Defectors have described public execution, prison camps, torture and mutilation.

Shin Dong-hyuk’s defection in 2005 was particularly important in illuminating the regime’s gross human rights violations. Shin’s testimony to the United Nations’ inquiry into human rights in North Korea held in August described a life of incomprehensible misery.

Incarcerated since birth for ‘guilt by association’, Shin was forced to eat rats, frogs and grass to survive. Perhaps most infamously, Shin was tortured into denouncing his mother and brother for attempted escape, who were then executed in front of him.

Such stories barely scratch the surface. The New York Times reported that in 2005 North Korea held 200,000 people in prison camps. North Koreans have claimed that imprisonment can result merely from watching a foreign soap opera.

Judge Michael Kirby heard horrific testimony from former North Korean prisoners at United Nations hearings in Seoul and Tokyo. Mr. Kirby heard allegations that a woman had been forced to drown her baby in a bucket. A man told the court that he had been forced to burn bodies of starved prisoners and scatter the ashes in a field.

Mr. Kirby said of the evidence: ‘I have been a judge for a very long time and I’m pretty hardened to testimony. But the testimony that I saw in Seoul and in Tokyo brought tears to my eyes on several occasions’.

The situation in North Korea is dire

Kim Jong-un’s accession to Supreme Leader of North Korea in 2011 has seen no let-up in this dire situation. Kim has reportedly enhanced government brutality, strengthened the county’s borders and pressured China to repatriate defectors.

At the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa, four North Korean players went missing, many speculating that they had seized their opportunity to escape the nightmare.

Defector Son Hyang-sun was caught attempting to flee the country, and jailed for four months. She described being tortured by a cattle prod.

The horrific list goes on: media restrictions; persecution of Christians; forced prostitution; eugenics.

Yet despite these atrocities, there is little discourse on what we can do to address the issue. Whilst policy makers focus their attentions on human rights abuses in the Middle East, little has been done to raise awareness of similar problems in North Korea. And any attention that has been directed towards the isolationist state has concerned nuclear missiles.

Co-founder of the new EAHRNK society Alice Gould, a second year Law student, says: ‘The situation in North Korea is dire. Much more needs to be done to get attention directed towards the North Korean people, who are suffering greatly at the hands of Kim Jong-un.’

Rob Moher

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Photo: Gabriel Britto (Flickr)

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