N.Korea's Concentration Camps Are a Burning Issue

  • By Kang Chol-hwan from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

    September 23, 2009 13:36

    Kang Chol-hwan

    Twenty years since the cold war ended with the demise of the Soviet Union and changes in China, the international community has begun to understand North Korea but is still far from seeing it whole. The Lee Myung-bak administration intends to offer the North sizable aid once the North is denuclearized. The international community, led by the United States, also equates the North Korea problem with the nuclear issue.

    But the nuclear issue is merely one of many problems with the North, and the fundamental problems will remain unsolved even if it dismantles its nuclear program and weapons under international pressure. Almost all socialist countries have collapsed or been transformed except Cuba and North Korea. And it is not because of its nuclear weapons and missiles that the North survives without reform and opening stuck between South Korea, China and Japan.

    The strongest prop of the North Korean regime is concentration camps. These are less like Stalin's Siberian gulags or Mao Zedong's Laogai concentration camps than Hitler's Auschwitz. After World War II, humanity promised never again to permit such camps on earth, and the world community intervenes in crimes against humanity across borders. The collective insanity of the Hitler regime was intricately linked with the concentration camps, which crushed all dissent.

    By running the concentration camps, the North Korean regime has been able to maintain power even after starving 3 million people to death in peacetime. These camps house some 200,000 to 300,000 political prisoners and their families, who are systematically slaughtered. Even party officials are afraid of being sent there. Hwang Jang-yop, a former secretary of the Workers' Party who defected to the South, said, "Even senior party members can't talk freely at homes for fear of being wiretapped, so they always have important conversations outside."

    The silence of the international community on the barbaric massacres in the concentration camps committed by Kim Jong-il borders on the criminal. Some 17,000 North Korean defectors in the South are complaining about the atrocity, but no country pays any attention. Even the South Korean government and people do not realize how serious the problem is.

    As a surgeon may kill a patient with a wrong diagnosis, so more and more North Korean citizens may lose their lives if the international community makes a wrong diagnosis of the North Korea issue.

    Had the U.S. diverted a tenth of the effort it invested in freeing the two journalists imprisoned in the North on the concentration camp problem, the groundwork for resolving the North Korea issue would already have be done. Had the Seoul government demanded the elimination of the concentration camps in return for the massive economic aid it provided to the North a decade ago, the North would have long started on the path to reform and opening.

    The closure of the concentration camps would end the reign of terror, and the public would be able to criticize the regime. This would lead to weakening the totalitarian system and forming a new leadership, resulting in reform and opening.

    Once the North achieves a collective leadership similar to China's under Deng Xiaoping, its people would be able to think rationally and build a society where the priority shifts from leader Kim Jong-il's personal interests to the public interest. Once the dictatorship ends, the North would, like Ukraine, denuclearize even without international pressure.

    We need a paradigm shift for the resolution of the North Korean issue. Six-country human rights talks must be held, and the Lee administration must shift its priority and tell the North that it will help only if it shuts down all the concentration camps before denuclearizing.

    • Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com
    Previous Next
    All Headlines Back to Top