A group of UCLA students and their community members gathered
Wednesday night to hear from one man who escaped from one of North
Korea’s infamous prison camps.
With the help of his interpreter Jae Hee Kim, Yong Kim ““
no relation to Jae Hee ““ told the rapt audience of his
experiences in North Korea.
Kim grew up as an orphan in the early 1950s. His parents were
both killed, his older sister died of starvation, and his older
brother died trying to leave the country.
Now 50 years old, Kim worked as a member of North Korean
intelligence before learning his father had been executed for being
a traitor. He attempted to defect, but was forced into a political
He worked at Camp #14 as a coal miner for “20 grains of
corn and salty water with vegetables floating in it” each
day. At one point he was so hungry he took apart cow dung to eat
the corn that “sparkled” in it.
Another time an inmate tried to eat extra food and was beaten
and forced to eat maggots that had been crawling in human waste.
Kim also said that until a riot in 2000, the camp conducted public
executions. After the riot, the executions were conducted
Millions have died from famine in North Korea since 1991.
Fourth-year business economics student David Cho said, “a war
is already taking place (in North Korea) with at least 2 million
Kim escaped the prison by hiding under the coal in a cart. He
eventually safely made his way to South Korea and then to the
United States ““ one of very few who have ever done so. He now
speaks about his experience, hoping to draw attention to human
rights violations in North Korea.
Minister Peter Lee ““ who founded a ministry to spread
Christianity in North Korea ““ also spoke at the event.
Though North Koreans are legally granted refuge in any country,
achieving that asylum is very difficult, Lee said. Most of the
refugees travel to China, where they are not met with open
The Chinese government is particularly cautious about allowing
North Koreans to obtain asylum to any country, he said.
He believes 75 to 80 percent of North Korean refugees in China
return to North Korea after obtaining rice and corn to bring
Lee said that while the Bush administration is doing a better
job than previous administrations in addressing the human rights
violations in North Korea, much more still needs to be done. He
would like the United States to pressure China to treat the
refugees as they should legally be treated.
To help the audience understand the government of North Korea,
Lee asked the audience to compare the U.S. government with that in
“Do people exist for Bush, or does Bush exist for the
people? In North Korea it is written into the constitution that
people exist for the (leader). One survey found that 65 percent of
North Korean refugees thought Kim Il Sung was God.”
Cho feels there is a “lack of awareness” on campus
regarding human rights violations occurring in North Korea and
hopes that these events will help interest students and inform them
of the suffering going on there.
This event was put on by various Christian, Jewish and Korean
There will be a viewing of “Shadows and Whispers”
tonight at 7:00 p.m. in Public Policy 1246. The video details the
lives of North Korean refugees living in China.