Senator Leahy Speaks Out About North Korea’s Gulags

Senator Leahy Commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day and spotlights the crimes against humanity being committed behind the walls of North Korea’s gulags.  (Congressional Record)


Remembrance Day
And N. Korea’s Gulags


MR. PRESIDENT, today, Thursday, April 19, is Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Observances and remembrance activities are taking place across the Nation in civic centers, schools, churches and synagogues, on military bases and in workplaces.

As always, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – created as a permanent living memorial to its victims -- is taking a leading role in this annual observance.

We must never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, we must never let the world forget, and we must never forget or neglect the Holocaust’s lessons. 

Never forgetting means keeping alive the memory of those who suffered and died in the Holocaust.

Never forgetting also means declaiming against crimes against humanity that erupt in our midst, and on our watch.

As searing as the Holocaust’s lessons are, the world is too easily tempted to avert its eyes from heinous crimes committed by governments and others against our fellow human beings.  The community of nations will always bear the shame of doing so little during the massacres on the killing fields of Cambodia, and in the villages of Rwanda.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum itself has taken the lead in shining a light on atrocities in our time in Darfur, and I commend its Committee on Conscience for lending its unmatched moral authority to the crusade to bring an end to the violence there.

In that spirit, our voices are also needed to expose the crimes against humanity that are occurring behind the walls of the prison camps of North Korea.  More and more information now is coming to light about the systematic, state-sponsored brutality that is being waged upon some 200,000 people, according to the State Department, in those camps.  The fact of these prison camps is not new.  But horrifying new glimpses are now coming to light from those who have successfully broken free and crossed the frontier to eventual freedom.  Publicly available satellite photos are helping to expose a system whose very existence the North Korean government continues to deny.  

A new report on these prison camps, authored by David Hawk, has been released by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a U.S.-based, private organization.  It documents the imprisonment of entire families, including children and grandparents for the “political crimes” of other family members.

At the report’s Washington release this month, a young man born to prisoners -- and thereby condemned to spend his entire life in one of these camps – spoke about visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, every time he comes to Washington.  Shin Dong-hyuk’s harrowing escape is detailed in a new book by Blaine Harden, a former Washington Post reporter.

We have vital national security interests at stake in our dealings with the North Korean regime, which has acquired nuclear weapons.  I am one who believes that we can fully and effectively pursue these interests through diplomacy and other means, without having to mute our outrage about human rights atrocities like these. 

I welcome the strong comments about this report made by Robert King, the United States human rights envoy for North Korea, who said that conditions in North Korea’s prison camps are worse than in the former Soviet Union’s gulag.  I would hope that today’s leaders of Russia and China would voice similar outrage about these atrocities. 

Social media and a powerful video recently brought the story of the crimes of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army to an audience of millions of people around the world.  Let us individually and together similarly raise our voices against the crimes against humanity that are taking place behind the walls and barbed wire of North Korea’s labor camps, where some one in four people die each year -- starved to death, or worked to death, or executed.

Let it not be said by future generations that though we knew enough, we did not care enough to condemn and to lend our efforts to end this brutal system.

Several news organizations have reported or commented on this new information about North Korea’s prison camps.  I commend to the Senate’s attention two recent such writings -- an editorial, and a commentary by Fred Hiatt, both from The Washington Post.

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North Korea's Dehumanizing Treatment Of Its Citizens Is Hiding In Plain Sight

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