(This article has been published in full at The Stream, November 16, 2017, and is reprinted here with permission.)
North Korea poses a serious threat to the United States. So far, it’s mostly rhetoric and not action escalated by the DPRK. The regime declared that it would launch “an unimaginable strike at an unimaginable time” upon the United States. It has threatened to turn you into a “pile of ash.”
But did you know that same regime turns its own wretched citizens who die in political prison camps into piles of ash? It then uses them as fertilizer. In that appalling action, North Korea itself demonstrates the link between global/national security and human rights. Sadly, this is a link that in recent years has been undervalued in U.S. policy.
The Committee on Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) is the leading U.S.-based non-governmental organization in the field of North Korean human rights research and advocacy. The organization, under Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu, played a vital role in the decision of the United Nations Security Council to address the human rights situation in North Korea. The resulting U.N. Commission of Inquiry was heavily supported with evidence from HRNK.
On Monday, November 13, HRNK released a new report by Robert Collins and Amanda Mortwedt Oh, From Cradle to Grave: The Path of North Korean Innocents. It was launched at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., with the authors, Scarlatoiu, and other speakers.
The two have impressive credentials. Collins has written several groundbreaking publications on North Korea for HRNK. He completed 37 years of service as a soldier and a civilian employee with the U.S. Army. This included 31 years in the Republic of Korea. Collins interviews North Korean defectors and escapees for HRNK. He is now developing population and human rights data. Oh is an attorney in the U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps. She analyzes satellite images for HRNK. She was desk officer for the series of satellite imagery analyses of North Korean prisons and prison camps.
A press release said the new publication “documents the chain of political and administrative command and control responsible for crimes against humanity in North Korea.” Who is responsible for torturing and killing both political prisoners and the innocents arrested with them? The authors wanted to expose how many “innocent” North Koreans suffer and die in the prison camps. These poor souls are guilty only by association. Three generations of families are imprisoned with the “guilty.” It is HRNK’s hope that someday the evidence in this report will be used to convict those responsible for the crimes.
Who are the innocents? They are normal citizens, unfortunate enough to be born into the hell that is North Korea. They do their best to be loyal to the Supreme Leader. At the report launch Collins said that “every single North Korean starts loyalty training at birth.” All lullabies sung to babies in their mothers’ arms are about the Dear Leader. This is by government edict.
The report asks:
How do North Koreans, who committed their lives to serve the Kim regime’s supreme leader and who are innocent by commonly-accepted legal standards, become criminals in the regime’s eyes? How do these innocent North Koreans, who study loyalty to the supreme leader daily, end up in unmarked graves inside a political prison camp?