Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

Human Interest: North Korea’s “Total Contol Zone” Internment Camps

Human Interest: In an article for The Telegraph, Emily Dyer, junior research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, brings to light the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, a rare escapee of North Korea’s notorious and little-known “total control zone” internment camps. Dyer contextualizes Shin’s experience with North Korea’s extreme human rights violations :

“Shin, born into Kaechon internment camp (Camp 14), endured twenty two years of punishment for the supposed crimes of his parents. He is the only person to have ever escaped from a ‘total control zone’ internment camp and beyond North Korean borders. (…) Unlike other North Korean camps, where prisoners are forced to submit to the regime’s ‘re-education’ programme of intense propaganda and brainwashing, those held in total control zones are considered to be sub-humans without any chance of release. They do not receive any teaching about the regime or its leaders, meaning that before his time of escape from the camp, Shin had never heard of North Korea’s ‘Juche’ ideology or the names Kim il-Sung or Kim Jong-il. But Shin witnessed and endured extreme torture at Camp 14. While working in a garment factory, he was punished for accidentally dropping a sewing machine by a guard who hacked off his middle finger just above the first knuckle. At the age of 14, he was tortured for information about the attempted escape of his mother and brother – after having his hands tied and legs cuffed, he was suspended over a charcoal fire. (…) One of the aspects of Shin’s story that seemed to shock his audience in Parliament the most was the feeling he described of seeing life outside the camp, in North Korea. He compared the moment to being struck by lightning as he saw for the first time what he thought was total freedom or, in his words ‘paradise’. (…) Being sent to a prison camp in North Korea is, in many cases, difficult to avoid. The regime closely monitors its people, actively seeking out those who fail to meet its demand for total and absolute loyalty –from folding a newspaper so that the crease falls on the leader’s face or forgetting to wear the red pin. Those caught are immediately arrested and sent to an internment camp.”
Acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden chronicled Shin’s life and experiences in the recently published Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West:
“Shin knew nothing of civilized existence-he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his own family. Through Harden’s harrowing narrative of Shin’s life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival.”
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