A Modern Auschwitz

North Korea’s Camp 22

Note: The following commentary contains graphic descriptions of human-rights abuses that may not be suitable for some readers.

The story was reminiscent of the horrors of Auschwitz. Kwon Hyuk, who recently defected from North Korea, was telling a British journalist what it was like to work at Camp 22, North’s Korea’s infamous concentration camp. As Hyuk recalled, “I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save the kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.”

Above the glass chamber, scientists were calmly observing and taking notes, just like the Nazis did sixty years ago with medical experiments.

It’s a dreadful testimony — but typical of those given by people who manage to escape North Korea’s brutal regime. Others tell stories of prison guards who stamp on the necks of newborns to kill them. One former prisoner, Soon Ok-lee, tells of being ordered to pass out poisoned cabbages to fifty fellow prisoners — women who then vomited and died within twenty minutes of eating them.

Atrocities like these are the reason that some forty groups, including the Wilberforce Forum, have formed the North Korea Freedom Coalition. Our goal: to urge the State Department to fully implement the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004, which we also helped get passed.

The coalition has reason to believe that some at the State Department are dragging their feet. Hints of unwillingness to act appear in the State Department’s Report on the Status of North Korean Asylum Seekers and the government’s policy toward them. For example, as we wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the report claims that “current treatment of returned migrants is generally better than it has been in previous years.” Recently escaped refugees would have told them otherwise; so would human-rights groups that have received credible reports of the execution of North Korean migrants when they return home.

We’re also told that a “survey” of U.S. diplomatic posts near North Korea reveals that most in the region would oppose U.S.-funded assistance to refugees “at this time.” But the entire point of the North Korea Human Rights Act is to move beyond what is being done “at this time.” In any case, it is premature to presume that governments in the region — many of which are cooperating with South Korea — would refuse to cooperate with workable proposals from the United States.

And whether they agree or not, the United States must move forward, helping people — including many Christians — who are being tortured and killed by the North Korean government.

Sixty years ago, the Allies threw open the doors to Nazi-run camps — and were horrified by what they found. Today, Auschwitz is a reality once again — in North Korea. And this time, we cannot claim we don’t know what’s going on in these camps. The only question is: What are we going to do about it?

As Christians, we believe all humans are created in the image of God, which is why Christians have always been the strongest champions of human rights. Please visit our website, www.BreakPoint.org, and learn more about this issue. Then I want you to call, write, or e-mail the Secretary of State.

When referring to Auschwitz, the Jews say, “Never again.” Well, “never again” is happening today, and it is to our shame if we don’t do everything humanly possible to stop it.


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