Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of international politics, about why North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is able to maintain his hold on power.
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LISA MULLINS: North Korea also presents a vexing foreign policy issue. The United States and other western countries want the secretive regime in Pyong Yang to dismantle its nuclear program. But Sung-Yoon Lee wants the West to exert far more pressure on North Korea to improve on human rights. Sung-Yoon Lee teaches international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He points to the widespread use of concentration camps.
SUNG-YOON LEE: Based on what has been going on in the North Korean gulags in the political prisoner concentration camps, you have such large scale facilities, housing reportedly anywhere from 150,000 to 200,000 North Korean people.
MULLINS: Are these prisons, these gulags?
LEE: These are concentration camps--
MULLINS: Cities, basically, large cities.
LEE: Yes, very large cities. How do we know these things? Well, nowadays, thanks to Google Earth, you can actually-- anyone with access to the internet, just do a search North Korea, concentration camp, or Camp 22, which is one of the largest camps in North Korea, and you can see the facilities with your own eyes. Moreover, we've had even prison guards, former prison guards, and they tell a consistent story.
MULLINS: What's the story, for instance, of Camp 22?
LEE: The prisoners in such camps are subjected to enormous, physically demanding labor. The food ration is very, very minimal. If you find a kernel of corn in cow droppings, one former prisoner said recently, that was one of his best days living there, because of the lack of food. Families are kept apart. Families are encouraged to rat on each other. You've heard stories from a former prisoner that he witnessed the execution of his own mother and his brother, random beatings, severe torture.
MULLINS: Why was this done? What was, in the eyes of the government, their crime?
LEE: Because these people were deemed disloyal, or potentially disloyal.
MULLINS: For doing what?
LEE: For saying so called counterrevolutionary things, like complaining about their life, "Life is hard." Even a comment like that may lead to imprisonment, because North Koreans are encouraged to tell on each other.
MULLINS: If that's the case then, and the evidence is as close as Google Earth, why would Kim Jong-Il be allowed to treat his people this way for so long?
LEE: Couple of reasons. First, North Korea is where it is, in northeast Asia, very, very close to South Korea, a key ally of the United States, very, very close to Japan. If North Korea were, say, located where New Zealand is today, then the United States and other powers may have more options, in terms of taking military action against North Korea, or even threatening the use of force against North Korea. So by raising awareness on the conditions of life in North Korea, I think at the very least, North Korea will feel pressure to improve certain aspects of the repression.
MULLINS: By being pointed at, that alone could change his treatment of his people?
LEE: In my view, a concerted effort in putting pressure on Pyong Yang, on its human rights violations, will have the desired effect of putting pressure on the leadership. We know that the North Korean leadership is not so engaged, does not care so much about the plight of its own people. So I think the financial pressure aspect, and also the human rights propaganda or campaign aspect should be part of any comprehensive strategy to modify North Korea's behavior.