Dams Under Construction Near N. Korean Gulags

2010-04-12 : 16:19
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Staff Reporter

An international law professor has claimed Monday that dams are under construction near six gulags in North Korea to destroy evidence of possible genocide there.

Satellite photos showed several dams are being built in the mountainous regions near the notorious prison camps, including Yodok prison.

Inmates of the prison camps reportedly number approximately 200,000, suffering from fear of public execution, starvation and extreme malnutrition.

``According to intelligence and witness accounts from North Korean defectors, the North may blow up the dams to kill the inmates in the event of a sudden change there," said Professor Hong Seong-phil of Yonsei University in Seoul.

Hong reminded the attendees of the fact that those responsible for genocide in Poland, Germany and other nations ended up being brought to justice after their dictatorial leaderships were brought to an end.

``As those in power in the North are aware of the consequences that their antecedents in other countries had to take after the change, they will want to destroy evidence,'' he claimed during a seminar hosted by Rep. Park Sun-young of the Liberty Forward Party at the National Assembly.

But Kim Sang-ug, a legislative researcher at the National Assembly Research Service, was skeptical about the possibility of North Korea using the dams to kill political prisoners.

``The North has built dams to provide industries and households with power. If North Korea wants to hurt political prisoners, those dams are supposed to be located downstream of the prison camps,'' he said.

Kim said it's hard to confirm if the North has the motives to kill the inmates with the dam project because information about their exact location is unavailable.

Participants of the seminar, including North Korean defectors, said the North is the land where unthinkable things happen.

The Unthinkable Happens

Rep. Park told the story of a 19-year-old North Korean defector who was born and raised in a concentration camp and escaped the communist country at 17.

``The young man suffers from taste loss. For 17 years in the prison camp, he ate only corn and salted cabbage, and the extreme malnutrition probably led to his taste buds losing their sensitivity,'' she said.

During the seminar, Kim Tae-jin, a representative of the Seoul-based human rights watchdog, Democracy Network against the North Korean Gulag, said that prison camps in the North were used as an instrument of political repression.

``The major reason why there are no pro-democracy activists in the North is that the Kim family - Kim Il-sung and Jong-il-- put dissidents and their offspring behind bars,'' he said.

Kim had been confined in Yodok prison from 1988 to 1992 after he was sent back to the North by Chinese security guards. He had escaped in December 1985 and was caught by the Chinese authorities after 16-months.

Tripartite Efforts

Professor Hong said that the past 15 years of efforts to improve North Korean human rights conditions have born no fruit.

Awareness of the human rights conditions in gulags has grown but little action has been taken.

``I personally think that the major reason why there has been little progress during the period is that we only tried to solve the problems by ourselves, without seeking collaboration with other stakeholders,'' he said.

``The primary responsibility for the inhumane situation there lies in the North Korean leadership itself, but there are also key stakeholders -- China and Japan -- whose coordinated actions with South Korea could make a difference."

Hong noted China began showing signs of shifting from its full support for North Korea, as skepticism about the country is on the rise there.

``I understand that a debate is underway in China on whether it should continue to support the North or not. The debate comes as a growing number of Chinese consider the North to be a stumbling block to their strategy for globalization,'' he observed.

The professor called on the government to work closely with China and Japan to reach a consensus because everybody wins when the North Korean human rights conditions improve.