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Firsthand Accounts of North Korean Abuses


A United Nations Human Rights staff points to the title of a drawing describing North Korean labour camp no 18, a gift made in December 2012 by survivor Kim Hye Sook, in Geneva February 17, 2014.

Three brave human rights abuse victims -- Joseph Kim, Jay Jo and Kim Hye-sook -- shared their harrowing stories of starvation, imprisonment, torture, and dangerous escapes from North Korea.

The U.S. and South Korea recently co-hosted an event at the United Nations in New York, where three brave human rights abuse victims -- Joseph Kim, Jay Jo and Kim Hye-sook -- shared their harrowing stories of starvation, imprisonment, torture, and dangerous escapes from North Korea.

Joseph Kim grew up in North Korea during the great famine of the 1990s. At the age of 12 he saw his father starve to death, his mother disappear, and his sister flee to China to search for food. In 2006, when he was 16, he decided to make the dangerous escape alone out of North Korea to look for food -- and for his sister. But he was forcibly repatriated in 2008 by China as many North Korean defectors are. Joseph, who finally escaped for good is now in college in the United States and continues the search for his sister.

Jay Jo recounted her story of losing half of her family during a famine and described what she saw happen to her parents as a child: “My parents often traveled to China in order to get the food for their children. But they were arrested by security agents, and my mother, who was three months pregnant, was tortured up to the point that she could not use her legs and released months later, but my father died out of starvation and torture on the way to be transferred to another prison. The regime said he was shot to death because he was trying to escape, but it was not true.”

Kim Hye-sook escaped North Korea in 2008, after spending 28 years in a political prison camp. In the camp, she witnessed countless inhuman acts, including mothers forced to kill their own children in exchange for food.

These testimonies shed light on the torture millions of North Koreans continue to be subjected to every day. But as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power noted, "We must not be satisfied with telling the stories, but we have to collectively continue to ramp up the pressure on [the North Korean regime], so that this system built to strip people of their most basic rights and dignity comes to an end, and the perpetrators behind the kind of terror and forced starvation. . .are brought finally to account."

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