Letter to Obama likens North’s gulags to Nazis

by Alex Martin

U.S. President Barack Obama, who will pay his respects Friday at the infamous Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp in Germany, has been sent an open letter from a Japanese citizens’ group calling for the international community to denounce North Korea’s notorious gulag system and not just focus on Pyongyang’s nuclear threat.

No Fence, a Tokyo-based association seeking the release of political prisoners in North Korea, where as many as 300,000 people are believed to be subjected to torture, hard labor and execution, said in the letter dated Monday that if the world does not recognize the horror taking place in the dictatorship, “we will be questioned by future generations on why we failed to apply the lesson of past crimes against humanity.”

The letter was endorsed by representatives of various international human rights organizations, including U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, South Korea’s Committee for the Democratization of North Korea and Japan’s Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea.

The letter will also be sent to 3,000 lawmakers of leading industrial nations to spread awareness of the issue.

Song Yoon Bok, secretary general of No Fence, expressed concern that while Americans and Europeans are well aware of the brutalities inflicted by Nazi Germany, particularly against the Jews, they have little knowledge of the atrocities being committed today in North Korean prison camps.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il “is using his nukes and missiles to attract the attention of the international community in order to hide the most ugly aspect of his dictatorship — the concentration camps,” Song said. “We hope attention will be paid (to the camps), and adequate pressure be added by the international community.”

Obama will attend a memorial ceremony at the Buchenwald camp along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before he heads to Normandy in France to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Obama’s great uncle, Charles Payne, 84, was among the U.S. infantrymen who liberated Ohrdruf, a subcamp of Buchenwald, in April 1945.