Defector challenges North Korean brutalities

Kendra Marr

Yong Kim defected. Escaping the torture and starvation he endured in a North Korean prison camp, he settled below the 38th parallel — the buffer zone between North and South Korea — full of hope.

But in this new life, he saw South Koreans rally for unification under North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the very leader that imprisoned Kim in a death camp for much of his life.

It was this disillusionment that Kim expressed Friday night to more than 200 people in McCormick Tribune Center. Aided by his interpreter, Weinberg senior Sarah Yun, Kim spoke about human rights violations in North Korea and his continued fight against Kim Jong Il’s influence in South Korea.

Kim is the only known survivor of his political prison camp and one of the few North Korean refugees to enter the United States. His speech was sponsored by 16 different Northwestern Asian and Asian-American student groups and departments.

An orphan, Kim rose through the military ranks to become a lieutenant colonel in North Korea’s intelligence agency.

“When I was a child, I believed Kim II Sung was my father and the North Korean party was my mother,” Kim said.

But in 1993 authorities discovered Kim’s biological father actually was an American spy and threw him into a political prison camp.

“Every day 20 to 30 people died, throwing up blood,” Kim said. “Women that had been raped tried to get rid of the baby by constantly hitting their stomach with shoes. Guards will tell prisoners to get wood and as they run up the mountain to get the wood, they shoot them dead.”

He decided to flee and hid under the coal of an outbound cart, taking the chance that guards would spear Kim when checking for escapees.

“I didn’t see the point in living in a place where I couldn’t be a human,” Kim said. “I escaped thinking I would die either way.”

Kim traveled to China, where South Korean Christian missionaries nursed him back to health before he journeyed to South Korea.

“I took in South Korea as my new home, and a new life, but my happiness didn’t last a long time,” Kim said. “South Korea is slowly giving into North Korean ways.”

Fed up with South Korea’s warring political parties, students and young adults fantasized about a simpler government under North Korea’s dictator. But Kim didn’t understand why South Koreans would support a government that starved its people.

“You were given a day’s worth of food — one handful of corn — after you ate, you would go through a whole day of agony,” Kim said.

So Kim began speaking to South Koreans about their misconceptions., a practice he continues in the United States. Kim currently is chairman of the North Korean Refugee Association and works closely with Liberation in North Korea, a national organization of college students working for freedom in North Korea.

“I still haven’t brought my wife and children to freedom, but as long as Kim Jong II’s party and ideology exist, I won’t retreat,” Kim said.

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