The UN has condemned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for human rights abuses
Starvation, beatings, forced abortions and sexual abuse. These are just some of the horrifying atrocities which emerged from last week’s UN report into rights abuses in North Korea by around 300 defectors who escaped its so-called 'total control camp' for political prisoners.
More than 100,000 are thought to be held in prison camps in the country – but this is the first public evidence session.
The 374 report revealed ‘an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ in North Korea, with discrimination against women ‘pervasive in all aspects of society’. The panel recommended that North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, 31, ‘be referred to the International Criminal Court by the UN Security Council’.
For those lucky enough to escape, there is fresh hope. According to one former resident of South Korea, Bona Shin, it’s thought around 500 defectors have secretly escaped to New Malden, Surrey - home to one of the largest Korean populations in the world outside of Korea and China. Bona currently lives and works in New Malden herself, help these ‘severely brainwashed’ defectors try to build new lives after escaping the totalitarian state of North Korea.
A rare glimpse inside a North Korean prison camp
Speaking to Grazia exclusively last week, Bona – often dubbed the Korean Schindler – described how she helps refugees to find work, often acting as a translator with employers and even a counsellor. Many escapees have been so ‘brainwashed’ by the current regime, they struggle to adapt to their new lifestyle.
Bona says one of the biggest issues defectors face is tracing lost family members: ‘Even if you manage to escape, you don’t know what will happen to your family.
Many have not committed any crime but are deemed guilty by-association. As Bona recalls: ‘I have heard of two boys having a fight in the street near a stature of former North Korean leader, Kim Il-Sung. A stone thrown in the fight hit Kim Il-Sung’s statue in the face. The next day, the boy’s family disappeared. I think that’s the worst thing about living in North Korea: the fear. We can’t begin to understand it’.
She spoke of another defector who decided to escape after watching his nephew die of starvation: ‘He couldn't go south to South Korea because the border is so heavily guarded, so he went north before swimming incognito to China, travelling through Asia on foot for weeks, and eventually flying to Britain.’ He was forced to eat rats, worms and lizards to survive but after making the several month-long journey, eventually settled in New Malden in 2005 where, thanks to Bona’s help, he managed to secure a flat, a job and raise a family.
Bona Shin helps prisoners who have escaped
But these happy endings are rare. Speaking at the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva, female defectors spoke in detail of the atrocities. One recalled how a prisoner was made to drown her baby in a bowl of water because it was crying: Another spoke of the infamous ‘Clock torture’, wherein guards shout times at pregnant women who are forced to recreate the time with their arms for hours on end until they collapse.
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, told Grazia: “The UN report confirms what Amnesty has been saying for decades – the people of North Korea are being left to suffer a living nightmare. Every conceivable human right is being violated there. Hundreds of thousands of people are being held in prison camps where they are starved, raped, tortured, executed. The world can no longer plead ignorance, and these horrifying words must be followed by action from the UN.”
Crowds gather around a statue of former North Korea leader Kim Jong-il