Updated: October 09, 2013 08:03 PM GMT
Camps for North Korea’s political prisoners are “worse than Nazi concentration camps,” an escapee told a parliamentary hearing in London on Tuesday.
Kim Young-soon spent nine years in the camps simply because “I was a friend of Kim Jong-il’s former wife,” she told the all-party group for North Korea at the House of Lords.
Kim broke down as she talked about Pyongyang’s notorious policy of rounding up the entire family of political prisoners.
“Almost no one survives the camps,” she said. “I lost my parents and my son. My heart still breaks when I think of them.”
Kim, who was a dancer in the People’s Army Ensemble with the rank of lieutenant, spoke of seeing “piles of bodies every day” and of camp inmates “picking corn kernels out of cattle dung” to avoid starvation.
She escaped in 2001 and reached South Korea two years later. In 2010, Reuters news agency reported that Kim was a childhood friend of Sung Hye-rim, a film star with whom Kim Jong-il had an affair and later married. Sung died in exile in Russia in 2002.
It was to keep the affair secret that Kim Young-soon was sent to the camps, Reuters reported.
Chairing yesterday’s meeting, the Catholic rights campaigner Lord Alton of Liverpool said 300,000 people remained in the camps and accused Pyongyang of “egregious violations of human rights.”
He praised the “sheer bravery” of people like Kim who escaped and made their way by arduous routes through China, and often Mongolia or Laos, to safety in the South.
Several speakers emphasised that pressure from British and other European governments and media could make a difference in North Korea since European nations are not regarded as “the enemy”, as are South Korea, Japan and the United States.
The hearing was part of North Korea Freedom Week in Europe, which is aimed at raising the consciousness of Europeans about North Korea.
The Freedom Week sees the launch at the House of Lords of North Korea Refugees Solidarity Worldwide on Thursday and will end with demonstrations in Berlin on Saturday.