But instead of granting freedom to Shin, then 14, the guards tortured him and made him watch his two family members' public execution.
Shin, known as the only person born in a North Korean political prison to have escaped, still bears the scars of his experience.
"These messages of my suffering will never go away until the day I die," Shin, author of "Escape from Camp 14," said through a translator as one of four experts on human rights violations in North Korea testifying before a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The hearing, addressing a bill proposing additional penalties against North Korea, took note of a UN report on human rights abuses in the communist country. A UN commission of inquiry recommended that North Korean government crimes be sent to the International Criminal Court for investigation. The report, released in March, recorded the systematic execution of Christians and mixed-race children.
The North Korean situation is "genocide," said South Korean human rights ambassador Lee Jong-hoon, urging the representatives to hold the rogue country responsible.
"Why can't there be a red line for human rights," Lee asked at the June 18 hearing, "as there is for weapons of mass destruction?"
According to a Heritage Foundation paper by Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for northeast Asia, tougher sanctions have been levied against Iran and Burma than North Korea, which has been perpetrating human rights violations for nearly 70 years.
While the hearing's witnesses agreed the oppression in North Korea should be addressed, not all said UN involvement would provide the answer.
Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., who headed the hearing, said he believes the International Criminal Court doesn't have a great record in addressing crimes against humanity. China has protected North Korea from international intervention, making it difficult for outsiders to make an impact in the closed nation, Smith noted.
"The world has really failed to raise the issue in a complete way," Smith said in an interview. "It has to get to the highest levels."
Smith recommended that South Korea create a regional court to address North Korean crimes because it could easily gather information on the regime from North Korean refugees. But South Korea has never addressed North Korea's human rights issues, since the nation's liberal faction believes such a move would compromise any negotiations with North Korea.
Andrew Natsios, co-chair for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and former vice president of World Vision, said it will be a long time before people in North Korea regain their rights. The best thing the world can do, he said, is to publicize the nation's oppression.
"I think we should simply be unrelenting," Natsios said.
Adapted from WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine (www.worldmag.com). Used by permission.
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