'She picked up the baby and she put it face down in the water': stories from inside North Korea
The United Nations panel investigating human rights in North Korea took testimony from more than 80 former North Koreans now living abroad, who gave evidence in public hearings in London, Tokyo, Washington and Seoul. About 240 others also gave evidence in secret.
The report details allegations of murder, torture, rape, abductions, enslavement and starvation, describing North Korea as a dictatorship "that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world".
Excerpts from some witnesses' testimony is below. Transcripts and videos of the public hearing, along with the report itself, are available in full on the UN website.
Ms Jee Heon A, speaking of her time in the detention centre in hongjin, Hamgyeong province
There was this pregnant woman who was about nine months pregnant. She worked all day. The babies who were born were usually dead, but in this case the baby was born alive.
The baby was crying as it was born; we were so curious, this was the first time we saw a baby being born. So we were watching this baby and we were so happy.
But suddenly we heard the footsteps. The security agent came in and this agent of the Bowibu [the North Korean State Security Department] said that … usually when a baby is born we would wash it in a bowl of water, but this agent told us to put the baby in the water upside down.
So the mother was begging. “I was told that I would not be able to have the baby, but I actually got lucky and got pregnant so let me keep the baby, please forgive me”, but this agent kept beating this woman, the mother who just gave birth.
And the baby, since it was just born, it was just crying. And the mother, with her shaking hands she picked up the baby and she put the baby face down in the water. The baby stopped crying and we saw this water bubble coming out of the mouth of the baby.
And there was an old lady who helped with the labour, she picked up the baby from the bowl of water and left the room quietly. So those kind of things repeatedly happened.
Kim Young Soon, Yodok political prison camp
I was at [Yodok political prison camp] for nine years.
In the political camp in Yodok, from daybreak to dawn, we had to work. There was no time said.
We got up at 3:30am, we had corn for breakfast and for several days. We went to work by 4:30am. Farmers had to go to where they worked. I was sent to a Gongupdae, an industrial related work.
I was the only one who worked in my family. If I was late, they cut our food for the day. Even if my bone was broken, I had to get up and run and get to my work on time.
But even if I did my best, they were still very cruel.
At the Yodok prison camp, I was ordered to cut 800 kilograms of grass in August. There were so many snakes in Yodok camp and so while I was trying to weed, I came across a lot of snakes.
I even ate snakes alive, I skinned them alive and there were other people who did.
And there were a lot of people who died because of hard work and there were also people who died from [a] disease.
And you see babies with bloated stomachs. And we also cooked the snakes and the mouse to feed these babies and if there was a day that we were able to have mouse, there was a special diet for us.
And so we had to eat everything alive, every type of meat that we could find, everything that flew, that crawled on the ground. Any grass that grew in the field, we had to eat. That’s the reality of the prison camp.
Kim Young Soon is female vice president of the Committee for the Democratisation of North Korea
Shin Dong Hyuk, born in no. 14 Bowiso Pyong-an Nam-do prison camp, Southern Pyong-an province
My Mum and my brother were talking in the corner where we were preparing meal. And, I overheard their conversation. I think they were planning to climb over the mountain and escape. And, I went to the school and I reported to my teacher about their conversation.
And, in front of all the inmates, political prisoners, and in front of my father and myself, my mother and older brother publicly executed. My older brother was publicly executed. My mother was hanged in front of me and my father.
When I first reported about their plan, I was obliged to report every detail to the guard that was the law. That was the rule of the prison’s camp, so that’s why obviously I thought it was my job to report about their plan to the guard at that time. At my age, I was really proud of that.
Shin Dong Hyuk’s story has been told in a book, co-written by Blaine Harden, called Escape from Camp 14.
Kim Song Ju, caught trying to flee North Korea into China
[The entrance to our cells was] only about 50 centimetres [high]. The prisoners were taken to the back of the building to enter through these short cell entry opening and the North Korean prison guards were telling us that once you get to this prison it’s because you’re, you’re not human, you’re just like animals and as soon as you get to this prison you have to crawl just like animals.
You are not allowed to stand up there and with 40 or 50 people in the same room, you could not move, you could not stand up, you could not do anything.
Though very brief, about five minutes, we were given some breaks here and there and we were allowed to stretch our legs.
A former nurse at a county hospital in North Hamgyong Province
“Working conditions were difficult. There was always a shortage of medicine. It was distributed from high levels at the national level down to the county, and misappropriated by officials who sold it on the black market [for money]. Consequently, doctors did not have medicines to use and could only write prescriptions.
A more alarming side-effect of the misappropriation of medicines was the sale of dangerous ‘knock-offs’ that flooded the markets. Entrepreneurs mixed liquid antibiotics with fuel and mixed pills with flour to make more money. As a result, many people presented to hospital with infections and problems from using knock-off antibiotics.
Although patients can technically go to the hospital at any time of day, the staff are rarely there after lunch as they had to engage in other business to make money to feed their families, or shop and do household chores”.
-Fairfax Media and AAP