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North Korea's Dirty Little Secret

Updated on January 12, 2013
Shin Dong-Hyuk lives in Seoul, South Korea and in Southern California.
Shin Dong-Hyuk lives in Seoul, South Korea and in Southern California.

If you are concerned about human rights, you should look into reading Escape From Camp 14; One Mans Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to freedom in the West. Written by Blaine Harden, it is the biography of Shin Dong-Hyuk, and tells of his escape from a labor camp in North Korea. This book is a heartbreaking, depressing read, that ends on a hopeful note. Shin's story is a powerful one, and it is very informative about how North Korea's most arduously kept secrets operate, from the inside.

Let me be more clear; Shin was not placed in these camps for political reasons. He was born in them. His parents were chosen by the guards. In effect, Shin and the other children in the camp were bred, for a life of slavery. He was trained by the guards to snitch on others, even members of his own family. He saw his mother as competition for food, and hardly knew his father and brother. In Camp 14, life was spick and span hell and utterly distopian. Shin managed to escape. He is the only person ever known to have done so.

As many as 200,000 people remain in these camps, although the exact number is not precisely known. What is known is that North is far more than just a broken, despotic island of poverty in a sea of wealth, with a large standing army and nuclear weapons in its grasp. It is also a human rights nightmare.

The North Korean Labor Camps have lasted longer than Joseph Stalin's gulags. They have outlasted the Nazi Concentration Camps. They are, in a way, the ongoing symbol of the struggle for human rights across the globe. Burma is starting to change, slowly but surely, thanks to the efforts of Aung San Suu Kyi and countless others. South Sudan remains the worlds most underdeveloped country, but it is a year old, and for the millions who live there, it is a chance for new beginnings. North Korea remains solidly fixed on controlling the lives of its people, and in enslaving some.

Even though these camps can be clearly seen by anyone using Google Earth, North Korea denies the camps exist. For years, the country has refused to bring human rights to the table in negotiations, and has refused to allow other countries to bring the issue up. The United States, China and South Korea also know of the camps existence. They each have a responsibility to act. But that is hard to do when the regime in the North refuses to even acknowledge that the labor camps exist.

Shin Dong-Hyuk and Kim Jong-Eun are about the same age, but the lives they have lived could not be more different. Kim Jong-Eun may be a new face to the regime, and he may bring some small changes in the inner workings of his government, as far as it exists. But make no mistake; He shares this crime against humanity with his father and grandfather. Until he chooses to end those camps for good, and spare the people inside, he will continue to share it.

Perhaps, if one young man could escape from camp 14, by reputation the most heavily guarded of all the camps, and flee clear across the country into China, than perhaps it is a sign that the heavily ordered society that was created by, and remains tightly bound to, the Kim family, is starting to unravel at the seams. There are other signs, too. North Korea's economy is held up only by China. More and more people either escaping the country, or are otherwise finding out that the outside world is more prosperous. Maybe one day. But not soon.


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    • Nathan Orf profile image

      Nathan Orf 5 years ago

      Michele Travis,

      In answer to your question, I think a single word describes this tragedy; Politics. The Kim family wants to sustain itself, and is the cause of the problem, so no help there. China is terrified of a mass migration of North Koreans flooding across the border, so they want to keep the Kim dynasty sustained. South Korea does not want another war, and the U.S wants the entire region to remain stable. It is a messy, convoluted problem with no end in sight.

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 5 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Nathon, this hub is very interesting, but also horrible. Why won't anyone help? No country will ever help with the way things are today. How many more people will suffer the horrors this man has suffered? I agree with steveos.

    • Nathan Orf profile image

      Nathan Orf 5 years ago


      I agree. The United Nations can't even stop Syria from dissolving into utter chaos, and the U.S, South Korea and Japan all want to keep China somewhat on their side. And the Chinese fear a mass migration into their borders if North Korea goes down. There is absolutely nothing that any of these countries will do.

    • steveso profile image

      Steve 5 years ago from Brockport, NY

      It's a crime that human beings are treated that way and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do. We have the United Nations, which is supposedly the organization that protects human rights. But with nations, such as the Chinese who are supporting North Korea because they fear the loss of their own authoritarian regimes nothing will ever be done. Human beings all over the world should hang their heads in shame.