Camp 14

Google Maps shows an outline of a North Korean labor camp. Photo courtesy of DigitalGlobe
Google Maps shows an outline of a North Korean labor camp. Photo courtesy of DigitalGlobe

On Tuesday, North Korea confirmed that it had conducted its third nuclear test. As its citizens suffer from chronic food shortages and malnutrition, the North Korean government continues to concentrate its efforts on the military. The most insidious threat posed by North Korea, however, is not the hermit state’s defiant production of weaponry, but rather its government’s proliferation of the notion that citizens are disposable; that humans are only humans if those in power deem them worthy.

A few months ago, 60 Minutes released a segment about Shin Dong-Hyuk, a man who spent the first 23 years of his life in a North Korean labor camp simply because two of his uncles had been suspected of defecting to the South during the Korean War. There are no exact numbers, but an estimated 150,000 prisoners find themselves in situations similar to Dong-Hyuk’s. Imprisoned for actions they did not directly commit, a majority of prisoners in labor camps are at least one generation removed from suspected political deviation.

To Western countries, North Korea is as an immediate danger to international political stability because of the country’s forays into nuclear weapon territory. Though its weapons program does pose risks, North Korea’s physical and psychological enslavement of its citizens is an equally large threat to humanity. While politicians and the media should not overlook any rogue weapons programs, they cannot continue to ignore the human threat within North Korea itself—the oppression and torture cannot continue unnoticed.

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