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Describing horrific conditions that led to cannibalism, two former prisoners presented a picture of communist North Korea’s notorious prison camps at a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the Assist News Service reported.
“In order to survive, I ate rats, cockroaches and snakes,” said Kang Chul Hwan, who was imprisoned at age 9 along with several family members because of the alleged political crimes of his grandfather.
A prisoner for 10 years, Hwan said he was among many children detained for their parents’ alleged crimes. He estimated that one-third died of malnourishment.
“Children simply disappeared from the camp,” he said.
Hwan is calling for an international team to investigate the human-rights situation in North Korea, one of the world’s most closed countries.
About 1 million people have become victims of extra-judicial killings over the past 50 years of communist rule according to the most conservative estimates, said Kim Sang Hun, a South Korean who has worked for two decades as a U.N. official.
Lee Min Bok, a genetic engineer sent to prison after a failed escape attempt from North Korea, said starvation conditions led to widespread cannibalism.
“A woman who had just given birth was so hungry that she ate her own newborn baby,” he said. “Brothers ate their own brothers in order to survive.”
Bok described brutal treatment at the hands of guards before he was sent to the State Security Police Detention Center in Hyesan City, Assist News said.
Interrogation methods at the camps include water torture, sexual assault, severe beatings and psychological abuse, the former prisoners said.
In addition to malnourishment, Bok described filthy living conditions.
“There were no sanitation facilities and no showers, and your body became full of insects,” Bok testified. “There were tens of thousands of lice all over my body.”
The prison camps in North Korea today are like Hitler’s concentration camps, he said.
The human-rights meeting was chaired by Baroness Caroline Cox, a deputy speaker of the House of Lords and the president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide in the UK.
“We have heard a grim and sober catalog of extreme violations of human rights in North Korea and China, with descriptions of suffering almost beyond comprehension,” Cox said. “There is a moral imperative for all of us who have the privilege of living in freedom to use our freedom to influence the international community to try and bring an end to such appalling suffering and human degradation.”
CSW issued a previous report of prison abuses that included an account by a former guard who defected to South Korea.
The guard described inmates who “looked like beasts … all had a deformity – limping, bent shoulders. They had sunken eyes, like a skull; unfocused, fearful.”
Guards and torturers were trained to see the prisoners as sub-human, he said, noting that he had virtually no limit to the punishments he could inflict.
“You can do anything you like, but do not kill them, unless they resist authority,” he said.