SEOUL, South Korea Feb. 17, 2014 -- A woman who survived one of North Korea's notorious labor camps said her four children and her parents starved to death in a camp after they were all arrested as group punishment because the woman had "gossiped" about the regime's former leader, according to a U.N. report out today.
The woman's testimony was part of a report by the United Nations' Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights, which issued an unusual warning to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that he could be held accountable for crimes against civilians including abduction, torture and mass starvation.
U.N. experts gathered unprecedented detailed accounts of evidence for almost a year. It includes satellite imagery and interviews with more than 80 witnesses who gave gruesome accounts of secret prison camps, starvation, and even deliberate abortions by forcing pregnant prisoners into harsh labor.
Retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, who is chairing the three person commission, is to formally present the 372-page detailed annex to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 17.
The panel released powerful video testimony from four individuals who have escaped the prison network, including a former prison guard, two women who went to prison camps, and a former army officer.
“These camp survivors and guards give first-person accounts of the horrors for prisoners in North Korea’s worst prison camps – which Pyongyang still denies exist,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
In the video, Kim Young-soon said she spent nine years in Yodok prison camp along with her parents and her four children for "gossiping" about an affair her friend had with Kim Jong-il, North Korea's former ruler and the father of the regime's current leader.
“The guilt-by-association system applies to the family members. I may be the culprit, but the other six members of my family are forced to go with me to the prison camp without knowing the charge,” she said.
Kim’s parents, 9-year-old daughter, and three sons - ages 7, 4, and 1 - all died from starvation in the camp, she said.
“It is a place that would make your hair stand on end. No words would help you to understand what this place is like,” she said.
Kim Joo-il, a former military officer, talked on camera about mass starvation of the population and graphic details of the end stage of a person starving to death.
“If you eat food, in less than 10 minutes, you excrete all... You cannot save this person," he said.
Park Ji-hyun told the panel that the reality in North Korea is that people are so hungry they would “eat from dog food and cattle feed left out at other peoples' houses.”
Park said she was trafficked and sold to a Chinese farmer and was arrested in China after trying to escape. She was sent back to North Korea’s labor camp where female prisoners are checked for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases upon arrival.
“They would force abortion,” she testified. “Pregnant women get sent to labor camps to carry loads up and down the hills so that it will naturally cause miscarriages.”
North Korea has rejected the investigation, calling it “a product of politicization of human rights on the part of EU and Japan in alliance with the US hostile policy.”
Josephine Jung and Clara Pak contributed to this report.