TIME North Korea

Report Says a Genocide May Be Happening in North Korea Right Now

A new report suggests that the current situation in North Korea may amount to genocide. Although the world has long been aware of potential human rights violations and crimes against humanity in North Korea, few have called the situation there an outright genocide.

The report came to light at a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing Tuesday, during which South Korea Human Rights Ambassador Lee Jong-hoon said the possible genocide extends to three groups: the so-called “hostile class” (which is the lowest class in the North Korean caste system), those who are adherents of religion — particularly Christianity — and those who are not ethnically North Korean. The genocide, Lee said, is largely by attrition and starvation.

Shin Dong-hyuk, who was held at a North Korean prison camp before escaping to South Korea eight years ago, also testified at the hearing. The prison camp experience remains as vivid to Shin as the scars that cover his body. He recounted his experiences at the hearing. Immediately upon his birth at the camp, he said, he was classified as a political prisoner and subjected to conditions that he described as not fit for even animals. He recalls the guards telling him as a young boy that only if he worked hard until he died would he be able to pay for his crimes.

“Even now as I speak here today there are still babies being born in the camps, public executions – like that of my mother and brother – happening in the camp, and dying from beatings and starvations,” Shin said.

Shin’s account, along with other high-profile arrests in North Korea, have captured the attention of the international community. This spring, an American tourist was imprisoned after leaving a Bible in his hotel room. However, North Korea’s diplomatic and political isolation has made negotiating solutions to those problems difficult.

“Even though we have tried, we have failed,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said after hearing Shin’s account. “This will require global mobilization … We need to do far more and that means a sustained effort.”

The report, which was commissioned by human rights group Human Liberty and compiled by law firm Hogan Lovells, recommends further action by the UN Security Council, including additional sanctions. It also shows how the International Criminal Court might open its own investigation without being referred the case by the Security Council.

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