Monday, August 20, 2012

Shocking Plight of Women in North Korea's Concentration Camp Gulag

I'm not totally unaware as to what goes on in North Korea, writing these few words back in 2007, but nothing prepared me for this report from Women Under Siege.

2007: These camps are massive, holding hundreds of thousands in each and where for such a simple thing as complaining about the food ration (in civilian life) whole extended families are rounded up and incarcerated for life.
Given this fear combined with the harsh realities of life, millions malnourished and dying of starvation (three million died in the last recent famine) and juxtapose this with the Dear Leader's god-like status and a whole nation that can only be described as the greatest cult the world has ever seen, or likely to see, I just find the whole thing so mind blowingly bizarre.
The narrator asked the question, 'how much is fear and how much is conditioning?' irrespective of either there appear to be masses that are genuinely on the full kool aid diet. This man is as near to being a god as it gets.

I grant there will be many very quiet dissidents but the reality of North Korea makes Orwell's 1984 read like a fairy story. more

The fine line between ‘obedience’ and rape in North Korea

By Michele Lent Hirsch
May 17, 2012

When Shin Dong-hyuk was 10 years old, he watched his mother be raped by her boss.

In an attempt to fetch her for dinner, Shin approached the office where he had been told she would be. The door was locked. Through a window he saw her kneeling as she washed the floor, then saw her boss approach and grope her. Shin’s mother and the man took off their clothes, and the boy watched the rest unfold.

But this was no ordinary case of sexualized violence in the workplace. Shin was born into a North Korean concentration camp, where he lived by the whims of guards and could be killed in an instant for any small behavior deemed wrong. His mother worked in a rice field within the camp, and her boss, one of the prison guards, did whatever he wished to as many women as he wanted. Shin’s mother “complied”—though by international standards, the term “rape” would apply—because she knew the alternative was death.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea estimates that up to 200,000 North Koreans are imprisoned in concentration camps—camps that are meant to stamp out every trace of individuality and destroy three generations of “impure” citizens. Citizens are first captured by veritable “thought police” and hauled off for any number of alleged crimes. Captives are “re-educated,” tortured, starved, beaten, and murdered.

Though there is no way of knowing how many prisoners are raped each year (just as there is no way of knowing how many prisoners are hung above a fire and burned, as Shin reportedly was), escapees report that guards attack women and girls frequently.

These attacks take place in a very casual, routine manner, says Blaine Harden, author of Escape From Camp 14, the recent bestseller that chronicled Shin’s life. Once girls reach their mid-teens, Harden told me, patrolmen begin to rape them. As in the Holocaust and in refugee camps around the world, North Korean inmates are often coerced into sexualized violence in exchange for food rations and other meager aid. During their days or weeks as a guard’s target of rape, Harden says, their abuse brings trauma, but also vital nutrients.

As if enduring repeated sexualized violence were not enough, Harden continues, teen girls and women are “disappeared” or murdered the minute they are discovered pregnant.

“It’s an awful game that they are forced to play,” says Harden. No matter how “obedient” a girl has been, no matter how many days or weeks she quietly suffers sexualized abuse in an attempt to survive and please the guards—it is the rape survivor who is punished.

“The theory behind the camps was to cleanse unto three generations the families of incorrect thinkers,” a former guard interviewed in Harden’s book recalls. “So it was inconsistent,” he explains drily, “to allow another generation to be born.”

In other words, because a prisoner is deemed to be of “impure” stock, she and her fetus are destroyed. This is consistent with what Women Under Siege has found in conflicts that utilize sexualized violence as a means of ethnic cleansing, from the Holocaust to Darfur—that women’s bodies are controlled to temper the threat their ability to reproduce poses.

All of this happens with a backdrop of physical austerity for prisoners. Harden writes that individuals held in camps may not so much as hold hands without threat of death. “Should sexual physical contact occur without prior approval,” goes one of the rules Shin had to memorize growing up, “the perpetrators will be shot immediately.” Even “conversing between the sexes without prior approval” is forbidden. As such, only those prisoners “rewarded” with arranged marriages can sleep together a few times a year. Children produced through these marriages are approved. All other births are not.

In a perverse twist, says Harden, a woman’s poor health can become an advantage. If she is malnourished enough to be rendered infertile, and can endure rape without pregnancy, her life is usually spared.

Many raped women, however, do not have such “luck.” Women Under Siege.

For more information on North Korea’s concentration camps, see the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea’s recently updated report.

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