02/01/2010, 00.00
NORTH KOREA
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Gulag survivors demand trial of Kim Jong-il for crimes against humanity

The group denounce violence perpetrated by the regime, the indifference of the international community. The prisoners do not know what crime they committed or the length of their sentence. Who tries to escape is impaled.

Seoul (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The survivors of North Korean labour camps demand an international trial against the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il, on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity".  The initiative has been launched by three veterans of Yodeok camp, one of the gulags scattered across North Korea, members of the Citizens Coalition for Human Rights of abductees and North Korean Refugees, based in Seoul, South Korea.  In December activists submitted a document to the International Tribunal in The Hague, Holland, denouncing the crimes committed by the communist regime.

Focused on the North Korean nuclear issue and security in the region, the international community has shown little interest in the drama of the population of the country. This is one of the reasons that prompted the Christian, Robert Park, 29 year-old American of Korean descent, to illegally enter North Korea on Christmas Day. He intended to ask the leader of the Pyongyang regime and senior officials to "repent" for their sins and liberate North Koreans from slavery.  

The gulags are a series of labour camps, hidden in the most rugged and mountainous areas of North Korea. Although less common than in Stalinist Soviet Union, the North Korean gulags are quite similar for their violence, brutality and harassment.

Kim Young-soon, who fled to South Korea in 2003, says she spent nine years in the Yodeok camp before finding out what her "crime" was: the woman was an acquaintance of Song Hye-lim, the second wife of the "Dear Leader" whose existence the authorities in Pyongyang have wanted to keep secret. Most often the prisoners of concentration camps are not aware of either the crime or the length of their sentence.  

The Yodeok camp, officially called "re-education camp No. 15", is home to about 30 thousand people and is located in South Hamgyeong Province. Inside fear and distrust reign. It is surrounded by electric fencing and guards, those who try to escape are impaled.

The people who manage to survive the camps and are released must sign a document, promising to maintain absolute secrecy. The penalty is their return to the concentration camps. The North Korean people are aware of their existence enough to be terrified by them: anyone who talks about them, is imprisoned for being a "reactionary".  

The dissidents know that their campaign will have little chance of being accepted and the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il will never appear before a court. They hope, however, that the initiative will lead to international pressure on Pyongyang, to improve human rights in the country.

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