Many more live secretly in China, where their plight is not much better than in the DPRK. These refugees are under constant threat of being turned over to North Korean authorities by the Chinese government or even being kidnapped and forcibly returned by DPRK agents who cross the border for that purpose.
Yet most people in the West either are unaware of what is going on in North Korea or choose to ignore it. And the U.S. government reserves what little outrage it displays on the rogue nation's nuclear program.
It may become more difficult to avert our gaze, however, as new information leaks out about exactly how bad conditions are in the kwan-li-so. An updated report of the Committee for Human Rights in Korea, "The Hidden Gulag: The Lives and Voices of Those Who Are Sent to the Mountains," now includes eyewitness testimony from 60 former prisoners along with 30 pages of satellite images of the camps.
In addition, a new book focuses attention on the plight of those who have survived the terror of the camps. Blaine Hardin's "Escape from Camp 14" details the life of Shin Dong-hyuk, a young man born in the camp who escaped, but only after turning in his mother and brother, whom he regarded as traitors and rivals for food, and witnessing their execution. But there have been other books that told similar stories -- "The Aquariums of Pyongyang," by former prisoner Kang Chol-hwan, and "The Long Road Home," by Kim Yong -- yet neither provoked sufficient interest and outrage to mobilize Americans to want to do something.
Unless that changes, North Korea will continue to starve, torture, and kill its people while we look the other way.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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