U.S. Plays Down Impact of Defector's Lies

      January 22, 2015 12:20

      Shin Dong-hyuk

      The U.S. State Department on Tuesday played down the confession of North Korean defector Shin Dong-hyuk that he invented parts of key testimony about the repressive country.

      The State Department said whether or not Kim's harrowing high-profile account of growing up in the gulag is true, there is "more than ample evidence" that the human rights situation in the North is abysmal.

      "The UN Commission of Inquiry report clearly found that there are ongoing, 'systematic, widespread, and gross' human rights violations in [North Korea], citing hundreds of interviews with victims and other witnesses," a departmental press officer said.

      Shin is something of a poster boy for the human rights movement, making hundreds of public appearances and becoming the subject of a book titled "Escape from Camp 14" by an American journalist. He also served as a key witness in the UN probe that led to a report which recommended sending North Korean leaders to the International Criminal Court.

      In the book, Shin claims he was captured while attempting to escape from the notorious Camp 14 and was tortured for it when he was 13. But he recently corrected his age at the time to 20. He now says he did not spend his entire life in Camp 14 but rather most of his prison life in Camp 18, a less brutal place. It was in Camp 18 that he informed on his mother and brother, who discussed their plan to escape.

      North Korea has used Shin's admission as an excuse to shoot down the UN resolution. The official Uriminzokkiri website claims that Shin’s account is a fabrication from start to finish.

      But the press officer said Shin's corrections "appear to be related to whether he was in one detention camp or in another. It's a question of whether he was in the most gruesome or simply one that is very gruesome."

      Greg Scarlatoiu, head of the U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, said there is no difference between Camp 14 or 18 as all prison camps are brutal.

      Shin, who has shut himself off from outside contact, on Facebook said he told the lies because he felt unable to face certain aspects of his past. He added he would probably withdraw from public life for fear of hurting the campaign.

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