N Korea: harrowing abuses recalled in rare public hearing
Defector tells new UN commission how mother was forced by guards to drown her own baby
THE FIRST United Nations panel to examine North Korea's human rights record has heard – among many other horrors - how a mother was forced to drown her own baby in one of the country's prison camps.
The three-member UN panel, set up in March, is holding a five-day public hearing at Yonsei University in Seoul this week to listen to evidence from around 30 North Korean defectors. North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un has refused to cooperate with the panel, the New York Times reports, and despite claims that 150,000 to 200,000 people are holed up in gulags across the country, he denies the prison camps even exist.
But evidence given by the panel's first two witnesses yesterday shed light on what is really going on in the North:
Public executions: Shin Dong-hyuk, one of North Korea's best-known defectors, was born in a prison called Camp 14 and escaped in 2005. Yesterday, the 31-year-old told a hushed audience that his earliest memory was when – at five years old – he and other inmates were forced to watch a public execution. He was later forced to watch the murder of his own mother and brother.
Physical abuse: Among other physical abuses he suffered, Shin said he once had the tip of his finger chopped off because he damaged a piece of sewing equipment. However, he said he felt lucky that was the extent of his punishment, as one seven-year-old girl was clubbed to death for stealing a few grains of wheat.
Hunger: Inmates were so hungry that they devoured live rats and the uncooked hooves of a goat thrown away by prison guards, said Shin. Jee Heon-a, 34, the other defector who testified on Tuesday, said salted frogs were one of the few things available to eat. "Everyone's eyes were sunken. They all looked like animals. Frogs were hung from the buttons of their clothes, put in a plastic bag and their skins peeled off," she said. "They ate salted frogs and so did I."
Forced miscarriages: Jee, who was imprisoned in 1999, said that many women suffered forced miscarriages through beatings and other forms of torture from security guards at detention facilities.
Infanticide: Speaking softly, Jee took a deep breath to describe how one woman was forced to kill her own baby, reported Reuters. "It was the first time I had seen a newborn baby and I felt happy," she said. "But suddenly there were footsteps and a security guard came in and told the mother to turn the baby upside down into a bowl of water. The mother begged the guard to spare her, but he kept beating her. So the mother, her hands shaking, put the baby face down in the water. The crying stopped and a bubble rose up as it died." ·