The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) to Host Conference Calling for the Dismantlement of North Korea’s Political Prison Camps
Wednesday, November 6, 4:00 pm—8:30 pm
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
9603 Woods Drive, Skokie, IL
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On Wednesday, November 6, the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center will be hosting a groundbreaking and high-level event, The Heart of Darkness: North Korea’s Hidden Gulag. Featuring dignitaries and renowned journalists, scholars and survivors of the North Korea regime, this exclusive program, co-hosted by the Museum and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), will bring awareness to one of the gravest human rights situations in the world today.
The plenary, held from 4:30 to 6:00 pm, will be followed by a buffet dinner. Ambassador Robert King, U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights, will deliver the dinner keynote remarks. From 7:00 to 8:00 pm, Shin Dong-hyuk, prison camp survivor and Blaine Harden, author of “Escape from Camp 14,” will engage in a discussion moderated by Melanie Kirkpatrick, author of “Escape from North Korea—The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad.” At 8:00 pm, the moderated discussion will be followed by a dessert reception and book signing. NO REGISTRATION FEE IS REQUIRED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PLENARY AND DINNER.
Described as North Korea’s “modern day concentration camps,” a carefully concealed gulag was set up decades ago by the North Korean state, one of the most closed and repressive societies in the world. It forcibly holds up to 120,000 political prisoners on starvation rations while subjecting them to forced labor, induced malnutrition, beatings, and other severe punishments. Three generations of the same family, including children and grandparents, are imprisoned in the camps. The rates of death in detention are reported to be high. More and more information has been coming out over the past decade about the camps from former prisoners and former prison guards who have managed to flee the country as well as from satellite photos of North Korea’s “hidden gulag.”
Dr. Marcus Noland, HRNK Board member, said: “During the Holocaust, the excuse was made that neither the public nor their leaders knew the true dimensions of what was transpiring. While North Korea’s prison camp system has been labeled the ‘hidden gulag,’ increasing information flowing through a variety of sources makes feigning ignorance untenable.”
The Illinois Holocaust Museum and HRNK seek to mobilize opinion to call for the dismantlement of the camps and protection for the prisoners who survive. Their efforts are expected to reinforce the work of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry, which was set up in March 2013 to investigate North Korea’s widespread, systematic, and grave violations of human rights and the extent to which they constitute crimes against humanity.
“It is essential that we affirm the obligation to recognize our shared responsibility to humanity, and remain resolute in fostering the promotion of human rights. Our partnership with HRNK echoes a unified clarion call that we must stand firm against atrocities that erupt in our midst, and together resolve that such crimes against humanity must come to an end,” said Richard Hirschhaut, Executive Director of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
“The Illinois Holocaust Museum’s mission to teach universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice, and indifference to help bring awareness to and end atrocities around the world makes it a fitting place to call attention to the inhumanity of North Korea's political prison camps and demand freedom for the tens of thousands of men, women and children brutally persecuted behind their barbed wire fences,” said HRNK Co-chair Roberta Cohen.
“We are humbled and immensely grateful to know that the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie has joined our efforts to bring attention to the unspeakable brutality and inhumanity of North Korea’s vast system of unlawful imprisonment. Together, we will strive to dismantle North Korea’s prison camps, uncover their crimes, protect the victims, and bring justice to their tormentors,” said HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu.
The event, which will be translated simultaneously on-site in Korean and English, will discuss the promotion of effective action and ways the Chicago and greater Midwest community can become involved. This conference is the third in a series. The first was held in Washington, D.C. last year and co-sponsored by HRNK and The Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights of the American Jewish Committee. It was hailed in a Washington Post editorial as “an unprecedented event” and was covered in more than 60 English and Korean language press reports. The second was held later that year in Los Angeles and co-sponsored by HRNK and the Simon Wiesenthal Center at the Museum of Tolerance.
HRNK, established in 2001 by a distinguished group of foreign policy and human rights specialists, seeks to draw attention to human rights conditions in North Korea by publishing well-documented reports and papers, convening conferences, testifying at national and international fora, and seeking creative ways to end the isolation of the North Korean people. In its 2006 report Failure to Protect: A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in North Korea, HRNK became the first organization to propose the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on the human rights situation in North Korea.
The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C., has launched a report titled North Korea’s Long-term Prison-labor Facility Kyo-hwa-so No. 1, Kaech’on. This report is part of a comprehensive long-term project undergone by HRNK to use satellite imagery and survivor testimony to shed light on human suffering in North Korea. This study combines former prisoner testimony collected in 2019 with declassified satellite imagery
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