“Probe a dog to steal its food”

[imText1]Kim Tae Jin (49), a former prisoner of the #15 Yoduk Detention Camp in North Korea, will testify on the real situation of human rights in North Korean detention camps at the 61st conference of the UN Commission on Human Rights to take place in Geneva, Switzerland.

This marks the first time that testimony has been given in public to the UN, despite many previous statements from North Korean defectors on the human rights situation in the reclusive state.

The following is Kim Tae Jin’s testimony at the 61st Conference of the UNCHR.

I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Freedom House and Christian Solidarity Worldwide for giving me the opportunity to speak at the UN Commission on Human Rights. I hope that my testimony can help people in Europe better understand the seriousness of the human rights situation in North Korea.

I was born in North Korea in 1956 and lived there until 1986, when I defected to China. Sixteen months later, in 1987, I was arrested and sent back to North Korea, via a bridge between Sanhe, China and Huiryeong, North Korea.

The reason I defected from North Korea was that people were not treated equally there. In North Korea, not a single crime or accident was publicly disclosed. Although it was advertised that the “People” were the owners of the country, there was absolutely no freedom in North Korea. I defected because I no longer wanted to live in such an environment.

My faith in God started in April 1987 through a Christian church in Rodugu-jin, Longjing, China. I had only heard of God but did not have detailed knowledge of Jesus or Christianity. I never had a chance to read the Bible. Then, while working in a mine, I started to read the Bible, though I was not able to understand much. Around that time, I was arrested by the Chinese police. I later found out that the Chinese police had packed my things and sent them as well, when I was sent back to North Korea. When I was questioned for the first time about the Bible during my interrogation, I denied any knowledge of it. The interrogator said that I really might not know, but his superior refused my answer, demanding that I tell the truth.

I confessed that I obtained the Bible to read, because I wanted to know more about God. They interrogated me harshly to find out where I had heard about God. They sent me to Yoduk Political Prison Camp on charges of disturbing Party policy, committing “national treason” by crossing the border, and counterrevolutionary activities.

I underwent severe torture and interrogation for 8 months following my repatriation, until I was imprisoned without trial in No.15 Political Prison Camp in Yoduk, South Hamgyeong Province, North Korea, in 1988.


I suffered from the torture of “motionless interrogation.” Anyone who moved, however slight the movement, was handcuffed and chained with arms spread wide, and then beaten. My interrogators used an iron rod used for cleaning guns to selectively hit bones, such as my wrist, knee, or ankle, inflicting extreme pain with little effort.

Detainees were often not allowed to sleep and forced to stay naked when it was very cold. Room temperature was extremely low, and using the toilet was very painful as everything around it was frozen.

The sanitation level of cells in the detention facility was horrendous. When detainees were forced to sit still, lice crawled on their face. Detainees were not able to wash their face until they were sent to prison camp or released.

If two people talked, they were ordered to stand facing each other and forced to slap each other’s face. As interrogation was such a painful process, I swallowed a nail in the hope that I would be sent to a hospital for surgery. However, I failed in that attempt as the nail came out in my stool. (The pain from my stay in the cell made me believe that the pain from a surgical operation would be nothing, if only I could stay away from the cell, even for a few days.)

Political prison camp

I was imprisoned in the No.15 Political Prison Camp based in Yoduk County, North Hamgyeong Province, North Korea, at the end of March 1988.

Though I was not able to keep myself steady due to malnutrition, I was forced to do hard labor. In April, I was ordered to carry soil down from a mountain, using an A-frame carrier. As I was weak, I put less soil on the A-frame than other prisoners. Seeing this, a head prisoner kicked me making me roll down the mountain. As I cursed at him, I was dragged to the guards’ quarters, where I was severely beaten with oak boards. I was knocked unconscious due to the brutal beating and was brought back to my cell later by fellow prisoners.

In August 1989, I was carrying something heavy in an A-frame, naturally stooping a bit, as I was trying to balance the weight. As a result, I failed to notice a guard on patrol, who was passing by. The patrol asked me to come out in the evening to punish me for not bowing to him. He and seven or eight of his colleagues beat me brutally. After the beating, they stripped me naked, handcuffed me, and forced me to stand in the middle of the courtyard. Though it was August, it was extremely cold late at night. I realized then that it was more painful than being beaten. I woke up the following morning when the head prisoner kicked me to tell me that I should go to work. At that time, we were building bulletproof walls for security guards.

When they handcuffed me, they tightened the handcuffs by stepping on my hands, making my hands go black very soon. They also forced me to sit on top of quicklime when it was raining.

When water is added to quicklime, the quicklime reacts and becomes very hot, reaching 100 degrees Centigrade and expelling gas. My buttocks were burning, but the guard forced me to sit there. Because of the burns on my buttocks, I was not able to lie on my back for a month and suffered severe pain when I used a stool. I could not put pants on for a while. The watery discharge from the sores stuck to my pants giving me excruciating pain.

In the fall of 1990, I was caught by a prison guard named Yang Soo Chul, when I was baking corn while on duty guarding a cornfield. He relentlessly beat me on the legs with a piece of burning wood. The burn marks on my legs still give me the shivers, even today.

In a political prison camp in North Korea, one can forget that he or she is still a human being. I had to do many things to survive. I carefully watched a dog so that I could steal its food. I ate snakes, frogs, rats, and anything that could be a source of nutrition.

I met many people in the prison camp. These were people who cut off their own finger or pretended to be insane because the brutal forced labor was unbearable. Someone who had been beaten with a shovel had to have one of his arms amputated because it rotted from tetanus. Many people spent 20 to 30 years in the prison camp simply because of some crime their grandfather had committed.

I was sent to a Confinement Center in the Camp as well. If a prisoner commits a crime in the prison camp, he or she is sent to the confinement center for about one month. Aside from the relentless brutality, the prison camp has many of the functions of a village. There I met a woman and conceived a child with her. She later underwent a forcible abortion and I was sent to the Confinement Center. I had to stay in the Camp one more year because of that.

My prison cell was extremely cold. Once I sat up holding my legs with my arms, because this position made it a bit more bearable. A warden stripped me, and kicked me in the face for sitting like this. I was very dizzy due to severe bleeding on the nose. The warden put me into a room, infested with fleas. The thought of the pain of being in the room makes me shudder. I begged to be moved to a room without fleas. The warden came back with a bucket of water, pouring it over my body. The pain of my whole body being frozen was overwhelming. Even today, whenever a streak of cold wind hits me, the memory of the freezing cold haunts me

I survived this living hell in 1992, with the help of God. I defected from North Korea again in 1997, through Hyesan. Although I lived in constant fear of being caught, I was very happy there. I was able to worship God and read the Bible as much as I wanted. In June of 2001, I came to South Korea via Mongolia. Under the protection of God, I am studying at Chongshin University, a theological school