Defectors and activists welcomed Tuesday a UN-mandated inquiry’s searing indictment of gross human rights abuses in North Korea, but analysts questioned the international community’s ability to act on its recommendations.
Pyongyang’s grim rights record has already been well documented by specialist monitors. But the size, breadth and detail of the report compiled by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea — and the UN imprimatur it carries — set it apart.
Kim Young-Soon, one of the many defectors who provided harrowing testimony to the COI, said she was grateful to it for recording the “nightmares we went through” for posterity.
‘North Korea has not and will never admit the existence of prison camps and this report won’t change anything overnight,” said Kim.
“But that does not mean sitting back and doing nothing. We need to keep collecting testimony so that someday it can be used as undisputed evidence to punish those behind the atrocities,” she added.
Now 77, Kim was a well-connected member of the North Korean elite in 1970, when she was suddenly dragged off to a labour camp as part of a purge of people who knew about the then-future leader Kim Jong-Il’s affair with a married actress.
So began a nine-year ordeal in what Kim described to the COI as “the most hellish place in the world” where inmates worked from dawn to dusk, supplementing starvation rations with anything they could catch, including snakes, salamanders and rats.
Family contacts managed to get Kim released in 1979. In 2001, she bribed her way across the border with China and eventually made it to Seoul in 2003, where she works as a dance teacher and lectures on life in North Korea.
“My heart still aches and I still wake up at night sweating just thinking about the prison camp I was in and family members I lost,” she said Tuesday.