Robert Buckland is the MP for South Swindon. He is also the new Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.
With both hands firmly clasping a cup of water, North Korean defector Shin Dong Hyuk spoke calmly and clearly about his life and experiences at a meeting of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission in Parliament last week. I was deeply moved to hear about the torture and conditions endured by Shin during the first twenty-three years of his life. Born inside one of North Korea’s brutal prison camps he was victim to the system known as “guilt by association”, which meant that he was imprisoned for life with his family as punishment for his parent’s crimes. This barbaric practice continues. Children of prisoners are treated the same as adults, experiencing daily torture and deprivation. Shin was taught from a very early age that teachers were human beings, but that he and his fellow prisoners were animals, who should be grateful to be alive and who should express their gratitude by working hard. From birth to adulthood, this was the only life that Shin knew.
We heard how in 1996 his mother and brother tried to escape. He was fourteen years old at the time, but when the attempted escape was detected by the prison authorities, retaliation was total. Shin was forced to watch their public executions. As if this was not bad enough, he was then subjected to torture, which included being hung upside down and with being burnt by fire. It was an emotional struggle to take in his account and to understand the pain that he endured so early in his life.
Shin managed to escape in January 2005 and was able to see the outside world in North Korea for the first time. Compared to life in the prison camp, even the harsh conditions of the Pyongyang regime seemed like “heaven” to him. He managed to escape to South Korea. Since then, Shin came to the United States and has been able to tell his story to the world.
Shin had never heard of the Nazi Holocaust before he came to the West. He learned about it when he visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, and was immediately struck by the similarity between his own experiences and those of the victims of Nazi tyranny.
Shin, who now lives in the United States, outlined what he believes the International Community can do to stop crimes against humanity in North Korea. I welcome the strong moral support offered by senior British politicians and other people of influence. However, the time has come for the crimes which Shin and hundreds of thousands of other North Koreans have endured for too long to be investigated. I urge the United Kingdom to work for the establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity in North Korea.
Shin Dong Hyuk’s evidence was deeply moving and at the same time revealed the depths to which the North Korean regime sink in order to silence opposition. This systematic abuse of the Human Rights of men, women and children by the Kim Jong Il regime must end now.