North Korean prison camps: More action needed

by Tyler Deffebach / Beacon Correspondent • February 26, 2014

A chilling report was released last week by the United Nations, with little fanfare, which detailed horrifying eyewitness accounts from North Korean prison camps. Reminiscent of Nazi era atrocities, the 372-page investigation chronicled repeated instances of mass extermination, pandemic–levels of starvation, forced labor, widespread rape, and frequent executions. A U.N. panel also served notice to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader,  who may be held personally liable in court for these crimes against humanity.

The act of serving Mr. Kim a notice does not come close to the consequences that are demanded from these substantial human rights violations. The U.S. should push for motions within the U.N. Security Council to condemn these cruelties and impose harsh economic sanctions on the country until these camps are closed. 

Currently, there are an estimated 120,000 people confined to these camps who face obscure crimes against the state, or who were convicted on charges of being related or associated with defectors. 

The U.N. investigation, which was barred from North Korea , held public hearings in Japan, the U.K., and South Korea, where former inmates revealed appalling stories about their captivity. One survivor, who spoke in Tokyo, recalled accounts of starving children clubbed to death by prison guards for stealing a few grains of rice, and a mother who was forced to drown her baby in a bucket. 

As a result of these atrocities, the world can not simply send North Korea a letter and walk away. Rather, the U.N. Security Council needs to take decisive retaliatory action. 

The council should place restrictions on economic aid to Pyongyang from China that would eliminate funding to North Korea’s military, and would place pressure on Kim Jong-un’s regime to concede to the international community’s demands. North Korea’s domestic political livelihood is directly connected to financial donations the country receives from Beijing to finance its security forces. 

If the world’s fourth‑ largest army does not receive its paycheck, it may turn on Kim Jong-un and force the regime to collapse. North Korea will, therefore, have no choice but to accept the terms associated with these sanctions. 

The key player to this plan is China. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto powers, China will have to be persuaded that reigning in its longtime ally is in line with their future interests, and it certainly is.

China’s ambitions of becoming a world superpower are limited by its relationship to Pyongyang. The country is no longer interested in perpetuating communism in the region but is rather concerned with the economic profitability of the Korean peninsula, something that North Korea stands in the way of. As a result, if Beijing is given a choice between standing with the international community and North Korea, China will choose to enforce sanctions against Pyongyang in an effort to close their concentration camps.

The U.S. specifically can sweeten the deal with China by agreeing to decrease American troop levels on the Korean peninsula. This would provide an assurance to Chinese officials, showing that their national security will remain intact if they act against their ally.   

This, of course, carries the belief that North Korea will respond to international pressures in a rational manner, which is far from certain. Geo-political conflicts in the region have often arisen from the unpredictable nature of North Korean politics, which have bordered on the line of insanity. 

This threat is only further magnified North Korea’s recently developed nuclear capabilities, which have exponentially escalated the danger of pushing the country into a corner. However, China still carries tremendous influence over Pyongyang, and, as such, maintains its ability and responsibility to oversee any potentially calamitous decisions made by Kim Jong-un’s regime. 

Ultimately, the prospect of closing these camps, by means of enforcing economic sanctions, carries the end goal of dismantling the extremist leadership in North Korea and reunifying the peninsula into a single democratic Korea. The reunification of North and South Korea would eliminate an unstable and dangerous state, while simultaneously enhancing economic opportunities for the region at large.

For this to happen, the world first needs to put an end to North Korea’s concentration camps.