- (Photo: Reuters/Jo Yang-Hak)
An orphan who was previously forced to work in a North Korea labor camp has relayed his treacherous experience, saying that he was "treated like an animal" and therefore resorted to "no thinking … just fear."
Hyuk Kim was arrested by the North Korean government at the age of 16 after trying to go into China in search of food. The young, homeless orphan was then sentenced to three years at one of the country's most unrelenting labor camps, known as Jungeori Labor Camp, where Kim says he was treated "like an animal" and didn't even dare dream of his escape.
"At Jungeori, there was no sense of being human; if you thought you were a human being, you couldn't live there," said the now 33-year-old, who was freed from the camp in 2001 after eight months of imprisonment. "You were like an animal. You do the hard labor you were ordered to do, that's it. No thinking. No free will. Just fear."
Kim added to NBC that he never dreamed of escaping the hostile camp conditions because reserving such hope for oneself often ensured a hasty death. "If you thought about when you'd leave the camp each day, you were usually among the first to die," Kim said. "Psychologically, you cannot fully adapt to camp life if your thoughts are stuck only on your release."
The former prisoner, who now makes a living as a lecturer in South Korea, added that days at the labor camp consisted of physical labor, such as farming or logging, and ended with strict learning lessons in which prisoners had to memorize the rules of the camp. Living conditions were equally horrific, with a reported 50 people to a living space and minimally-nourishing food, forcing some prisoners to hunt rats for sustenance.
Kim's recent recollection of his struggles proves especially concerning as currently Kenneth Bae, an American missionary, is being held prisoner at one of North Korea's labor camps. Bae, who previously led tours from China to North Korea, was arrested in 2012 and charged with 15 years hard labor for allegedly trying to overthrow the government. Due to the uncertainty of his treatment in the labor camps and his failing health, both the U.S. State Department and Bae's relatives, who reside in Washington State, have been lobbying to have the country release the 45-year-old prisoner.
Attempts for Bae's release have been thwarted by North Korea's unpredictable diplomatic moves. Recently, the State Department had planned a trip for U.S. Ambassador Robert King, the special envoy for North Korean Human Rights issues, to visit the country and possibly negotiate Bae's release. However, North Korea unexpectedly canceled the visit, citing planned military drills between the U.S. and South Korea as the reason.
Bae's family is now reportedly seeking the help of the Rev. Jesse Jackson to help in the missionary's release.
The United Nations released an extensive, 400-page report Monday detailing some of the "unspeakable atrocities" that take place inside the mysterious Asian country, saying that crimes of starvation and extermination were "strikingly similar" to those crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis in 1940s Germany.
"The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world," the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK wrote in the report.