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North Korea is commonly thought of as the most the oppressive and brutal regime of modern times, and rightfully so. Citizens of North Korea are routinely subject to deprivation of basic human rights and necessities. Even though a majority of the practices in North Korea have been globally condemned; it has proven extremely difficult to find a solution to these issues. It is ingrained into the minds of the civilians that their ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong Un, along with past rulers, are to be regarded with the utmost respect and going against anything that they say will result in punishment, similar as to how a religious figure would be regarded.
The regime goes to great lengths to ensure that their citizens will blindly devote themselves to their government and its leaders no matter what the cost. In her book titled In Order To Live, Yeonmi Park describes the hardships she and her family had to face on a daily basis while living in North Korea.
She bravely speaks out about the corrupt and severely flawed government in her novel, something that in North Korea would most definitely result in harsh penalty for not only her, but for her family as well. Millions of innocent people living in North Korea are forced to endure countless violations against basic human rights such as widespread starvation, forced labor, strict censorship of media by the government, as well as torture and other cruel punishments committed in prison camps.
In North Korea doing something as seemingly innocuous as watching a Hollywood film or consuming any foreign media that is not pre approved by the government can result in a maximum prison sentence of up to 10 years (Charlie Bayliss).
Although taboo, black market films are so commonly sought after since they are the only thing that can provide them with a glimpse of what the outside world is actually like. It is not uncommon to hear about people buying pirated DVD’s off of the black market, blatantly ignoring the fact that getting caught could result in severe and sometimes fatal punishment. Many refugees tell similar stories of hiding under blankets with the blinds drawn, secretly watching soap operas in the middle of the night, or whenever the scarce availability of electricity would allow them to. Yeonmi Park reflects on the first time she had watched the movie Titanic and the immense impact it had on her by saying, “…what was shocking to me about Titanic was that the guy gave his life for the woman and not for his country – I just couldn’t understand that mindset (Nathan Thompson).” Almost all of the people living in North Korea do not have any knowledge about the outside world and are made to believe that they should feel privileged to live in North Korea, “the greatest nation in the world”, as they are so often told.
Yeonmi Park emphasizes the repression of individuality and free will that is ingrained into minds of North Korean citizens from a young and impressionable age by saying, “I was taught never to express my opinion, never to question anything (Yeonmi Park, page 16).” Government propaganda is fed to students as soon as they are old enough to comprehend it, giving them no opportunity to allow them to form opinions and think for themselves beyond what the government tells them is acceptable. Bits of propaganda are sprinkled throughout every subject in the North Korean education system, much of it including a common theme of anti american ideology. Children are taught to play military inspired games with props such as toy pistols, rifles, and tanks used to pretend fight against the evil American soldiers (Daily Mail Reporter). Classroom walls are littered with violent posters portraying hate and violence against American soldiers, while displaying the Korean soldiers celebrating in victorious triumph at the American defeat (Daily Mail Reporter).
Students are also made to study extensive history about the elite leaders of their country, their backgrounds often times fabricated and greatly exaggerated in order to make them come across as god-like and heroic. Countless citizens are tricked into believing that their leader has supernatural abilities and is able to hear their thoughts and control the weather. Many of us can recall the feelings of repulsion while learning about the atrocities committed by the Nazi’s during World War II, but many people aren’t aware of the fact that in North Korea nearly 200,000 people are currently detained in one of the country’s prison camps, strikingly similar to the ones used during World War II (Paul Szoldra). Numerous counts of rape, infanticide, torture, deliberate starvation, forced labor, and executions have been documented in these camps (Amnesty International). It is not uncommon to hear stories about innocent people being detained in these horrendous camps even though they have never actually committed a crime.
Generations of families can be held captive just by associating with somebody who has committed a crime under the basis of guilt by association. Staggering amounts of casualties due to malnutrition and starvation have been recorded, as inmates of these camps are often denied access to proper food sources and oftentimes resort to scavenging insects and rats in acts of desperation driven by the excruciating pain of hunger. Inmates are forced to perform intense labor in extremely dangerous and harsh conditions, leading to many labor related casualties. Prisoners often have severe protein and calcium deficiencies due to their diet, or lack thereof, leading to many prisoners developing severe defects such as hunched backs from bending over in the fields for long periods of time and even losing fingers or toes due to frostbite (Paul Szoldra).
The systematic violations of human rights conducted and endorsed by the North Korean government is absolutely vile and unforgivable. In this country, the value of human lives are reduced to little to nothing and are seen as disposable and meaningless. In her autobiography Yeonmi Park expresses that, “…a human’s life had less value than an animal’s. Even a dog would be treated with more respect (Yeonmi Park, page 51).” The citizens of North Korea live in a gruesome reality with no ability to speak, express, or think for themselves without facing severe and sometimes even fatal punishments. Trivial crimes can oftentimes lead to years of imprisonment in one of the several labor camps located in the country. The truth of the matter is that millions of innocent people are suffering at the expense and mercy of the North Korean government with slim chances of ever being able to escape.
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