Brainwashing, spying, fear: daily fare in North

AFP/February 18, 2014

Geneva -- Brainwashed, under constant surveillance and facing the specter of disappearing forever in a vast network of camps if they step out of line, the cruel lot of North Koreans has been spotlighted in a landmark report by a U.N.-mandated human rights panel, which said it is time for regime officials to face international justice.

Its 400 pages were filled with shocking testimony from North Koreans who have managed to escape the clutches of the totalitarian nuclear-armed regime.

Among the most shocking stories gathered by the Commission of Inquiry on North Korea were those from the “kwanliso” political prison camps, evoking the darkest chapters of world history.

“One of the witnesses from one of the camps told of how his duties included gathering up the bodies of those who had died of starvation and putting them in a pot and burning them,” said the commission’s chairman, Australian former top Judge Michael Kirby. The ex-inmate then took the ash and remaining body parts to be used as fertilizer in nearby fields.

Barred by Pyongyang, the commission based Monday’s report on testimony from 320 North Korean exiles — dubbed “human scum” by Pyongyang. It said many more were afraid to speak out, fearing that the regime could harm relatives or that they could be abducted, like other defectors have been.

The regime denies the existence of camps in the country, but the report said that stance was disproved by testimony from former prisoners, guards and neighbors, plus satellite imagery.

Between 80,000 and 120,000 people are thought to be held in North Korean camps, including generations of whole families arrested for alleged political crimes under rules of collective guilt.

Hundreds of thousands of others were believed to have perished in the camps over the past half a century, “gradually eliminated through deliberate starvation, forced labor, executions, torture,” said the report.

Drawings by a former prisoner published in the report detailed torture methods with names including “pigeon,” “airplane” and “motorcycle” — anodyne names for brutal methods.

Prisoners were also used for martial arts practice and were forced to have abortions if they fell pregnant. They lived on rodents and leaves.

The report also pointed to allegations that political prisoners were killed in medical experiments to test the effects of chemical and biological weapons.

For those outside the camps, public executions and the fear of imprisonment were a tool to “terrorize” the population, whose daily life was marked by constant “surveillance, coercion, fear and punishment to preclude the expression of any dissent,” the report said.

It detailed the use of public executions with machine guns, with entire school classes brought to watch.

One witness, Choi Young-hwa, was age 16 when he saw a factory manager shot for “espionage” after dismal economic performance.

“He remembered being afraid and thinking that anyone could become a victim of such executions,” the report said.

Factory workers were also taken to watch such slayings.

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