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'Rights do not exist' in N. Korea, UN inquiry told

Protest means death, says escapee

'Rights do not exist' in N. Korea, UN inquiry told

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is accused of overseeing widespread human rights abuses (AFP photo supplied by Korean Central News Agency)

Mike MacLachlan, London

October 24, 2013

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The UN inquiry investigating abuses in North Korea heard on Wednesday that “human rights do not exist” in the isolated Communist state during the latest hearings in London.

Kim Song-ju, an escapee from North Korea, told the inquiry that any form of protest against the regime resulted in severe punishment “handed down for generations."

Kim told the inquiry chairman, Australian judge Michael Kirby, that “protest translates as death itself.” 

He described his four attempts to escape from North Korea across the border with China.

“I didn’t have any food,” he said.

The UN earlier this year said that two thirds of North Korea’s population of 24 million people are chronically food insecure.

Kim told the inquiry he was sent back to North Korea three times by Chinese authorities. He was then taken to a detention center where he witnessed severe beatings and was forced to search prisoners’ excrement for money.

“The North Korean prison guards were telling us that once you get to this prison you’re not human, you’re just like animals,” he told the inquiry.

In February 2007, he finally got away by jumping from a train taking him to a prison camp and later managed to leave China with the help of missionaries. He now has permanent residence in the United Kingdom.

Another escapee, Park Jih-yun, described how she had to leave her dying father at home with only a bowl of rice as she fled across the Chinese border in 1998.

In China, she was forced into marriage by “people who buy and sell other people,” she said.

Park has a son whom she said she had to leave behind when she was betrayed, arrested by Chinese police and sent back to North Korea. She was then sent to a prison camp where she and other women had to pull carts weighing up to a ton by hand, she said.

Hospitalized with an infected cut, Park escaped again and this time reached Mongolia where, unlike China, she said that she and other escapees were treated as refugees.

She eventually made it to South Korea, where she married a man who had helped her cross the border into Mongolia, and now lives in the UK.

The UN commission of inquiry also heard from three former North Korean soldiers on Wednesday who spoke of rights abuses, and from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) which has documented violations inside the country, including against Christians.

“We hope that the commission of inquiry will expose the extent of the North Korean government’s human rights violations and provide the first steps towards justice for the North Korean people who have suffered terribly under one of the world’s most brutal, and closed, regimes,” said CSW’s Special Ambassador Stuart Windsor who led the organization’s delegation to the inquiry on Wednesday.

The commission, consisting of Kirby, Sonia Biserko, a Serbian rights campaigner, and Indonesian Marzuki Darusman, a former UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, has previously held hearings in Seoul and Tokyo and is due in Washington DC next week.

The commission will brief the UN General Assembly at the end of the month before presenting its findings and recommendations to the UN’s Human Rights Council in March next year.

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