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Amnesty: For North Korea

Patrick Devenny

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The far-Left is nothing if not tenacious. Not only has Amnesty International condemned the United States in the harshest possible terms -- in the middle of a war when international image is vital -- but its most recent report spends more time criticizing the rogue pranks at Gitmo more harshly than the death camps run by the North Koreans.

Rather than apologizing after referring to the American detention center in Guantanamo Bay as a gulag, Amnesty International has attempted a unique maneuver to break out of its public relations death spiral. The "non-partisan" advocacy group has taken to calling actual gulag survivors and begging for their endorsement of Amnesty's statement. In an editorial published in The Washington Post on June 18th, Soviet gulag veteran Pavel Litvinov recounted how a senior Amnesty staffer called him asking for his public support. When Litvinov suggested there was quite a difference between his own experiences and those of the terrorists imprisoned in Guantanamo, the staffer responded "Sure, but after all, it attracts attention to the problem of Guantanamo detainees."

This kind of shocking disregard for the facts in the name of anti-American agitprop is hardly surprising to long time critics of Amnesty. When Amnesty International's executive director, Irene Khan, made her reckless gulag assertion, it was the latest in a string of grating hyperbole. If Amnesty can turn the detention facility in Guantanamo into a gulag, imagine how they would judge a truly brutal prison system. Imagine what Amnesty would say, what they would write, about a hypothetical country with actual death camps, reeducation centers, and government sponsored murder on a scale rarely seen in history.

Of course, such a country does exist: it's North Korea. You would hardly know about Pyongyang's cruelty, however, if you were limited to reading Amnesty International annual reports. As originally pointed out by FrontPage Magazine contributor Lt. Colonel Gordon Cucullu, Amnesty cannot be bothered with the testimony of those escaping from Kim Jong-Il's prison state. The group is more than willing to deem the testimony from violent jihadists "troubling" and "credible," but North Korean citizens are considered "untrustworthy." So what exactly does Amnesty say about North Korea in its latest report?

Not much. The first thing you will notice when reading Amnesty's 2005 report on human rights in North Korea is the length of the article, or rather, lack of same. Amnesty writers have managed to fit the abject brutality of North Korea into an article shorter than the one you are reading now. Amnesty, amazingly, takes only 1,351 words to describe the most brutal and despotic regime on the face of the earth. In comparison, Israel, or in Amnesty parlance "Israel/Occupied Territory," needs 2,592 words. The U.S, not surprisingly, rates three times the North Korean word count. North Korea's 200,000 slave laborers, its dozens of political prison camps, its mass interrogation and torture facilities near the Chinese border, all in 1,351 words.

In actuality, the Amnesty International report on North Korea barely mentions any of these horrors. It is 1,351 words of avoidance and oversight, of misdirection and outright ignorance. Whether this is intentional or simply shoddy research (either is certainly possible when Amnesty is involved) is, in the end, irrelevant. While Amnesty takes great strides to attack the Bush administration, it barely scratches the surface of the North Korean nightmare. What does Amnesty miss? Let us start with its treatment of the prison camps, or, as Amnesty calls them, "detention centers." Amnesty criticizes the detention centers for being overcrowded and being run by cruel guards who often beat prisoners. Of course, Amnesty's description of North Korean prisons is fairly similar to their nightmarish portrayal of the American penal system.

Leftist critics of President Bush's "aggressive" policy towards North Korea blanched when he had the temerity to declare that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il operated concentration camps. If anything, the president's rhetoric was excessively restrained. The communist government of North Korea operates nothing less than a nightmarish prison camp system analogous to the murderous designs of Hitler and Stalin. An estimated 12 camps, or kwan-li-sos, are currently run by the government, which hold between 150,000-200,000 total prisoners. In the camps, those imprisoned are often forced to labor until they die, either by starvation or exhaustion. The camps themselves are massive, with some larger than American counties and one, Camp Huaong, larger than the city of Washington D.C. In other camps, it is estimated that 20 to 25 percent of the total prison population dies every year, leading to a staggering amount of death. These prisoners are often arrested by authorities with no explanation or formal procedure. In some instances, three generations are jailed together, with children being imprisoned for the imagined crimes of their grandparents. In other smaller prison camps, run by the North Korean security apparatus, prisoners are routinely tortured and politically "re-educated." These camps are not hidden, one can easily view satellite photos of them, along with descriptions from the many North Koreans who have escaped. Amnesty, apparently, has not found such evidence compelling enough to include this in their report.

Another aspect of Amnesty's human rights analysis is North Korea's treatment of women. If you listen to Amnesty, female prisoners in North Korea have it rough, but nothing extraordinary. Apparently, women are "humiliated" before their trials by being strip searched. Prisons also lacked women's restrooms and female inmates were routinely "degraded" by authorities. All of this is fairly loathsome, but as Amnesty so readily reminds us, North Korea is, after all, a signatory to the UN's Women's Convention.

North Korea's ratification of the Women's Convention certainly does not help women who become pregnant in the country's camp system. Amnesty fails to even mention the horrific practice of forced abortion and infanticide that regularly takes place inside the kwan-li-so. Escaped detainees report numerous instances of prison guards carrying out forced abortions on multiple women at a time. In other scenarios, the babies are delivered, only to be immediately slaughtered by security police. Amnesty apparently forgets to tell the story of one female inmate, a school teacher caught trying to escape to Mongolia, who had been captured and was almost beaten to death at the Onsong In-min-bo-an-seong punishment camp in November 1999. Another female inmate imprisoned in a security facility recalled seeing an elderly woman made to do repetitive exercises until she passed out and died on the floor. These testimonies represent just the tip of the iceberg concerning the horrific fate awaiting imprisoned women in North Korea, who are also subject to mass rape by prison guards. Again, Amnesty fails to mention these atrocities, featuring absolutely zero testimonies or inmate interviews in their latest report.

One of Amnesty's main complaints and criticisms concerning the United States is its preservation of the death penalty. Amnesty's report breathlessly recounts the 59 executions carried out in the United States during the 2004, which supposedly represents the United States' continued abuse of "international law." Amnesty also makes reckless accusations that various American crime labs produce faulty results in death row convictions. The American government is deemed "retentionist" in its refusal to sign various anti-death penalty conventions sponsored by the United Nations.

Regarding the North Korean "death penalty," if arbitrary and public executions can be described by such a judicial designation, Amnesty is considerably more subdued. Instead of the lengthy examination given to the American death penalty, Amnesty delivers a cursory criticism of the North Korean penchant for "secret executions," although no cases are cited. The truth is far more disturbing than Amnesty's four sentence description imparts. Executions are a part of every day life in North Korea, where "class enemies" are regularly hanged in public squares, with hundreds of school children forced to watch. Execution-worthy crimes include petty theft, Christian worship, or attempting to escape North Korea (many escapees have been forcibly returned by China, demonstrating their complicity in this cycle). Those who have fled North Korea have described the construction of several mass execution facilities that can be mobilized quickly were the United States to attack. A recent video smuggled out of North Korea showed three prisoners, charged with fleeing the country, tied up to poles and shot by firing squads. Yet Amnesty fails to mention this case which is actually captured on video, unlike the claims of imprisoned Islamic extremists on Guantanamo. Indeed, citing no supporting evidence, Amnesty declares that executions in North Korea have actually decreased.

Defenders of Amnesty may claim, as Amnesty itself does throughout its report, that North Korea is so isolated that it would be nearly impossible to compile a comprehensive and lengthy report on their human rights abuses. This faulty excuse is called into question by the invaluable work of the U.S Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a private organization with minute resources as compared to the well funded and connected Amnesty International. Their 2003 report on North Korea's gulags features a wealth of information -- including satellite photos, dozens of eyewitness testimonies from North Korea, and detailed maps -- showing the extent of the North Korea prison state. Basically, the committee does everything Amnesty is unwilling to do, namely detail the harsh truths of the North Korean human rights record. Their honesty stands in stark contrast to the omission and posturing that characterizes Amnesty's treatment of the issue.

The scale of the North Korean slaughter is staggering. While Amnesty screams bloody murder over the 550 detainees in Guantanamo Bay, it barely mentions the 200,000 people currently held in various concentration camps throughout Kim Jong-Il's kingdom. How can one explain this reprehensible oversight? Perhaps it is the elevated press coverage gained by Amnesty whenever they make their inflated charges against the Bush administration. These faulty aspersions bring in additional financial contributions from like-minded leftists, while denunciations of North Korea only serve to aid the "unilateralist" foreign policy of the Bush administration. The horror being perpetrated by the North Korean government represents the great crime of our modern era, yet Amnesty International is content with spewing politically motivated invective against the United States. Hopefully, history will note Amnesty's shameful silence in the face of our modern slaughter

Patrick Devenny is the Henry M. Jackson National Security Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington D.C.

Read this article on the Front Page Magazine website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission.

Posted: 23 Jun 05

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