North Korea

UN not taken seriously by North Korea, says defector Shin Dong-hyuk

Defector who grew up in labour camp will work with world body on human rights in North Korea, but doubts it will have any impact

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 9:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 8:59am

North Korean defector Shin Dong-hyuk will be in Geneva on March 17, when the United Nations commission set up to look into the human-rights situation in North Korea announces its findings, but he has little faith that anything the UN says will have any impact in Pyongyang.

"Unfortunately, the UN cannot do very much," Shin, the only person born in a North Korean labour camp to escape to the West, said yesterday in Tokyo.

"The horrible state that is North Korea does not take the UN seriously and history shows us that the organisation has not been able to do one thing to halt the problem in North Korea," he said.

Shin, 31, was born in North Korea's re-education Camp 14, the child of two inmates who were allowed to marry in the camp as a reward for good behaviour.

He is in Japan to meet other activists, including the families of Japanese nationals who were abducted by North Korean agents, as well as other human-rights groups.

Shin is also promoting a documentary about his experiences as a political prisoner inside the camp where he was born.

Camp 14 - Total Control Zone tells of how he watched the execution of his own mother and brother after he overheard them planning to escape and informed on them.

It also tells of his own escape, at the age of 23, in 2005.

He managed to reach South Korea the following year and his story was turned into a best-selling biography.

Despite the anger and disappointment that are clear in Shin's voice, he concedes that there are few avenues other than the UN through which the international community can deal with the regime in North Korea.

"Although it is very late and many opportunities have been missed, I still believe that the human-rights committee and the countries involved should take a strong stance.

"I do not know what sort of actions they might take - perhaps economic sanctions - but the UN is a big organisation and should do something to stop this problem," he said.

"If an organisation as big as the UN cannot do anything, then it is just spending money and there is not much point to it." Shin is now a campaigner for human rights in his home country, but fears the situation has become even worse under the regime of Kim Jong-un.

"I understand that the prison camps have got bigger and more accommodation blocks have been constructed since he came to power," he said. And just hours after reports emerged that the extended family of Jang Song-thaek had been executed, he expressed little surprise at this latest alleged atrocity.

Jang was arrested in December for a litany of crimes against the state and summarily executed, a fate that has now apparently befallen his sister, her husband, a nephew and his two sons. The sons, daughters and even grandchildren of Jang's two brothers were also executed, sources in South Korea have told local media.

"According to the rules in North Korea, if the dictator in charge does not like you, then your family and friends are taken to the camps as well," he said with a shrug. "Under North Korea's system, there can only be one person in charge, so I am not at all surprised that Kim did this to his own uncle."

And while he expressed hope that things might change soon, Shin is not optimistic.

"Kim is a bully who uses fear to control people, and that is a very effective tool," he said.

"I am aware that some people speculate that the two [Koreas] could be reunited in five years, but the experts said the same thing when [Kim Jong-un's grandfather] Kim Il-sung died and nothing happened then."