Russian President, Vladimir Putin invited North Korean Dictator, Kim Jong-un to be his guest on May 9th for the nation’s 70th anniversary celebration of Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany. Kim accepted the invitation to attend then retracted it at the last minute with an official statement that “domestic issues would keep him at home.” These domestic issues are speculated to have been the launching of yet another test missile for the nation’s evolving nuclear weapons program. Kim’s flirtation with attending the Russian event is suspected to be a tactic for manipulating his failing relations with China.
Most people are aware of Putin’s reputation for being ruthless and untrustworthy, but any doubts about his character were answered by Russia’s sudden invasion of Crimea last year. However, due to the tight-fisted control North Korea keeps on its national image, far less is known about Kim Jong-un. Thanks to some recent breakthroughs in satellite imaging and the testimony of a few brave individuals, we now have all the evidence we need to understand Putin’s new possible partner in crime.
Today, in North Korea there are at least six active concentration camps stationed throughout the country’s expansive mountain ranges. A majority of the prisoners are not being punished for committing a crime, nor are they part of a rehabilitation program; the purpose of these secluded camps is to provide the impoverished nation with a slave labor force by seizing the entire family of any individual that is deemed to be politically unreliable. After the controversial secession from South Korea in 1945, founding Dictator, Kim Il-sung silenced any public opposition by imprisoning the families of those suspected of disagreeing with the secession. His legacy of dehumanization is kept alive today by his grandson, Kim Jong-un who maintains the legitimacy of his grandfather’s Three Generations of Punishment sentence, which commits all children born within the camps to serve the same life sentence as their parents and grandparents. However, there are no records of anyone surviving long enough to be released.
The camps are massive installations spanning anywhere from 1 to over 200 miles, incarcerating up to 50,000 inmates each and containing whole factories, mines and shipping yards. The guards are taught never to think of prisoners as human and are authorized to beat, burn, whip, rape, maim and execute anyone at any time. Ahn Myong-chol, a former guard of one camp reported that 30% of the prisoners had serious deformities from violent acts of punishment. Besides the beatings, guards are also authorized to use standard methods of torture involving near-drowning, locking them in small boxes, tying them up in a crouched position for hours, and making them kneel with rods against their knees until they become permanently lame. Ahn also reported seeing hundreds of prisoners being shipped off to work construction for secret military projects and never returning. Though it was never openly spoken about, he knows they were executed to protect the project’s secrecy. He admitted that prisoners were also used as live experimentation subjects for researching surgical techniques and weapon development.
Shin Dong-hyuk is one of the only known prisoners to have escaped the camps and survive. In an interview he described what it was like being born and raised in Camp 14, never knowing whether the world was round or square, and only seeing his parents and siblings as fellow prisoners. He believed prison guards were born to carry guns and hold power just as he was born to follow orders, work physical labor and suffer abuse. He had no concept of geography, thinking the rest of the world was made up of similar camps. When his interviewer asked whether he knew what love was after being raised from birth like an animal, Shin admitted “I still don’t understand it…I think I am still evolving from an animal to a human.”
Shin’s eventual escape was motivated by a powerful thought, broiled chicken and barbeque pork. His life-long diet of cabbage and corn meal kept him so close to starvation that he was forced to eat bugs, rats and undigested grains from cow feces to survive. He made a run for the South Korean border after another prisoner told him about all the food the outside world had to offer and what it was like to feel full after a meal. In his interview, when Shin was asked the meaning of freedom he answered, “Freedom means people can eat whatever they want. It could be the greatest gift from God.”
This is the kind of man Kim Jong-un is, and these are the ideals that he has to offer the global community. What are we to think about Vladimir Putin’s decision to befriend him? After all, they both declared this year their “friendship year,” and as a sign of good faith, Russia forgave 90% of North Korea’s 11 billion dollar debt. Given the complete lack of respect both leaders have for human life, their prospering friendship gives the rest of the world a great deal to worry about.
Photo Source: money.cnn.com