North Korea concentration camp escapee receives international award


An activist protests in Seoul, South Korea, over the forced repatriation of nine young North Koreans who had fled to Laos. South Korea's president has warned Pyongyang not to harm the returnees.



SEOUL, South Korea — Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped from a North Korean concentration camp, has received the Moral Courage 2013 award from the UN Watch NGO, following the release of his influential biography and his activism on behalf of fellow defectors. 

The prominent defector escaped from a North Korean "total control" prison camp when he was 24 in 2005. He rose to rare international fame because he's the sole defector known to have fled from a concentration camp.

He wrote that both his mother and brother were brutally killed after he allegedly told authorities that she was planning an escape attempt — apparently brainwashed by the authoritarian camp system. 

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"UN Watch has decided to grant the Moral Courage Award to Dong-hyuk Shin for bearing witness to atrocities and stirring the conscience of mankind to protect the fundamental human rights of the voiceless victims of North Korea," said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, in a press release on the organization's website. 

"No one would have blamed him for seeking a life of quiet and recuperation." he added. "Instead, Shin dedicates his life to speaking out for those left behind."

"I used to feel resentment and anger because living in the camp was unbearable," Shin said in a Wall Street Journal interview. "As I worked more on this book and told my innermost story, my feelings began to change."

His biography, Escape from Camp 14, was written by former Washington Post correspondent Blaine Harden.

"When I remembered how my mother and brother were captured and tortured," he added, "I used to feel only intense hatred and loathing toward the guards. But now, I think the guards are also victims of a horrible system."

Shin started a weekly web-video broadcast, which allows fellow North Korea defectors to tell their stories, and he's also active on social media.

Of the 24,000 refugees who have fled to South Korea since the Korean War of 1950 to 1953, most have maintained a low profile at the margins of this society. They encounter discrimination and limited job prospects, and usually do not gain prominence.

Human rights activists often complain that their cause is overshadowed by North Korean high politics — especially war threats, and missile and nuclear tests. But a movement that focuses on the North Korean people, rather than politics, is gaining a wider profile thanks to the work of overseas groups such as Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) and the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.