The UN probe report on rights abuses in North Korea paints a grotesque picture of torture and humiliation in the country that is a conspicuous outcrop of politics, society and culture. The universe of global political activities, societal traditions and universal culture — it has emerged over the years — finds strange echoes in the North, where citizens wail in unison on the death of their leader, audience claps in chorus as the president joins hands and obsequious officials dutifully take notes in his presence.
A former North Korean prison guard who later defected is one of scores of people from the North who have described their plight. In an incident detailed by the guard, a number of dogs were let loose on five kids locked up in a cell in the prison where he was posted. In minutes, the children were dead, mostly because of their necks being devoured by the canines. One of the children had his stomach eaten up by
The regime makes extensive use of labour camps to silence political dissenters and to keep rebels in check.
How egregious can be Kim Jong-un’s regime? There is no limit to the cruelty which prisoners have to experience. Subjected to extremely cruel acts and harsh treatment, labour camp inmates often die prematurely. And in the guard’s words, they are at times not even buried — just left to rot in the open. What prompts a sovereign country’s government to engage in or lend support to such bestiality. Human nature is complex and the urge to hold on to power, or the lust for it, can take an individual to heights of desperation. One can subject others to extreme suffering and insulate oneself in a self-adulatory cocoon to be on the top of a power structure. That is what the North Korean leader is doing now. He has inherited authority from his father, who ruled the country with an iron hand for decades. Since Kim’s anointment to the seat of power has been hereditary, he has to keep his domestic constituency glued together. Fear is an important instrument with which perpetrators try to achieve this. And fear and terror can be achieved by torture and intimidation.
Intimidation by the regime is achieved by purges — ostensibly on the pretext of state security.
Former inmate Jeong Kwang-il told the UN investigation that he was almost starved during 10 months in a detention centre and his weight dropped from 75kg to 36kg. Subjected to a technique known as ‘pigeon torture’ to force confessions where the hands are handcuffed behind the back, he thought it was better to die. The UN report should come as an eye opener to the international community lost in geopolitical games of oneupmanship. If humanity is suffering, it is in North Korea.