A letter to the President from our friend Amanda Kloer
Dear Mr. President,
Today, like most days, is probably very busy for you. You’re in South Korea, talking to important officials about a number of pressing issues regarding North Korea. I’m sure the crazy-dictator-might-have-some-serious-nukes issue will come up, as will trade, relations with China, etc. But I hope you will also address the major human rights abuse faced by over 200,000 North Koreans living in slavery inside government-sponsored forced labor camps. These are the same camps American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling narrowly escaped a few months ago. But there is no Bill Clinton to rescue thousands of North Korean citizens sentenced to slavery.
If government-sponsored slavery exists anywhere in the world, Mr. President, it exists in North Korea. Reports from released and escaped inmates indicate that prisoners in these forced labor camps work 12-15 hour days with a measly portion of sugared corn as their only meal. Women are raped with impunity and denied access to even the most basic supplies, such as sanitary napkins. Relatives of prisoners who commit suicide are brutally punished to dissuade others from taking their own lives as a means of escape. This system is a throwback not only to Soviet gulags and Nazi work camps, but to the chattel slavery of the 19th century.
For most people in these forced labor camps, there is no hope for an end to their slavery; they have been sentenced for life. A few individuals may have the “opportunity” to undergo years of remedial socialist indoctrination, leading to eventual release under parole-like conditions. But the vast majority of North Korean slaves will die working in hard, manual, unpaid labor. And when the guards are taught to view the inmates as farm animals and prisoners are forced to view assassinations as lessons in obedience, death is sometimes welcomed as a friend.
International human rights organizations and anti-trafficking activists have been trying to fight the North Korean slave camps for years, often with little help from foreign governments and with active and sometimes violent resistance from the North Korean government. The fact that most of the world has ignored this form of official government-sanctioned slavery is inexcusable. Such a system has not been allowed anywhere else in the world for a long time.
Mr. President, while issues of nuclear nonproliferation and trade are certainly important, the U.S. and Europe cannot have such single focus that they ignore the suffering and slavery of hundreds of thousands of innocent North Korean people. Moving forward, we must find a way to address this issue as an egregious human rights violation and hold the government of North Korea accountable for the atrocity of legal and sanctioned slavery.
Good luck with your visit, Mr. President. And if you’d like to talk more about this issue when you return, I would be more than happy to come to the White House for another beer summit.
A Supporter and Proud Owner of an Obama Hand Puppet,