The cost of Kim Jong-Il

Life under Kim Jong-Il, the leader of North Korea who died on Saturday, has been unbearable for most, facing political 0ppression and widespread malnutrition.


Life under Kim Jong-Il, the leader of Stalinist People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) who died on Saturday, has been unbearable for most who have faced political 0ppression and widespread malnutrition.

Repression is widespread. However, out of 24 million North Koreans, the 200,000 who are held in ‘political prison camps’ may face the harshest conditions. Prisoners include thousands of those ‘guilty-by-association’ – friends and family of those already detained.

One prisoner described the situation in the prison camps, where average winter temperatures are between -20 and -30 degrees celsius, like this:

“A room around 50m² in size, is where the 30 or 40 political prisoners sleep in. We sleep on some sort of bed made out of a wooden board with a blanket to cover. A day starts at 4am with an early shift, also called the ‘pre-meal shift’, until 7am.

“Then breakfast from 7am to 8am but the meal is only 200g of poorly prepared corn gruel for each meal. Then there is a morning shift from 8am to 12pm and a lunch until 1pm.

“Then work again from 1pm to 8pm and dinner from 8pm to 9pm. From 9pm to 11pm, it’s time for ideology education. If we don’t memorize the ten codes of ethics we would not be allowed to sleep. This is the daily schedule.”

“If you only finish half of your assigned task, you would only be given half of your food. Seeing people die happened frequently – every day.

“Frankly, unlike in a normal society, we would like it rather than feel sad because if you bring a dead body and bury it, you would be given another bowl of food.

“I used to take charge of burying dead people’s bodies. When an officer told me to, I gathered some people and buried the bodies. After receiving extra food for the job, we felt glad rather than feeling sad.”

Amnesty reports that torture is widespread in the camps:

“The North Korean authorities are also known to use a cube ‘torture cell’, where it is impossible to either stand or lie down. ‘Disruptive inmates’ are thrown in for at least one week, but Amnesty International is aware of one case of a child thrown into the cell for eight months.

“In most of the camps, no clothing is provided and prisoners face harsh winters. Inmates are also expected to work long hours undertaking strenuous and often pointless manual labour.

“Food in the camps is scarce. Amnesty International has been told of several accounts of people eating rats or picking corn kernels out of animal waste purely to survive, despite the risks – anyone caught risks solitary confinement or other torture.”

All together, 40 per cent of inmates in the camps die of malnutrition. The tragedy of all this is that below the 38th parralel, South Korea has experienced what economists have described as the ‘Miracle on the Han River” – rapid growth which supported a massive improvement in living standards.

South Koreans now enjoy at GDP per capita at Purchasing Power Parity of $30,000 per year – on par with Italy or Spain – while the North Korean economy has stagnated, and can barely provide 700 calories a day for its children:


The cost of Kim Jong-Il carrying on his father’s policies has been immeasurable beyond those GDP figures.

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