In the vast valleys in the remote north of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, there are up to 200,000 political prisoners detained in a secret network of internment camps. These camps were created shortly after the Korean War during the period when North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung strived to eliminate dissent by executing revolutionaries and imprisoning political traitors in gulags, which are political labor camps. The North Koreans imprisoned in the internment camps are there for several reasons, including “guilt by association,” alleged political infidelity, attempted escape from North Korea, and any other action that threatens Kim Jong Un’s communist regime.

Many of the gulags’ captives probably have no idea why they are suffering in such a terrible place, as the camps run on a “guilt by association” system. This means that the captives’ families could be punished for three generations for simply being biologically related. Once someone is convicted of a crime, his or her entire family can be unfairly seized and held captive in the camps solely based on their familial ties.

Shin Dong Hyuk was the first prisoner to escape the gulag. He has told the story of his miserable life in the camp, which consisted of malnutrition, betrayal, and torture. Taught at a young age always to follow the rules, Shin informed guards of his mother and brother’s plan to escape when he overheard them talking. By telling the guards, Shin hoped to be able to satiate his eternally empty stomach. Instead, Shin suffered fire torture from the guards, who believed he was a part of his mother and brother’s plan and was forced to witness their executions. Although they were a part of his family, he didn’t feel any emotion because he seldom spent time with them. All Shin knew how to do was follow the rules and rat out anyone who broke them.

In the internment camps, thousands of captives like Shin are forced to work in horrible conditions; they suffer from crimes including torture, enslavement, forced abortion, forced labor, rape, murder, starvation, and death without trial or charge. Although these concentration camps violate international law and human rights in a number of ways, the media choose to focus on security threats, crazy leaders, and other political issues. In order for change to take place, media attention needs to shift from politics to the atrocities committed at the gulag.

The world needs to put more energy into the security of the citizens of North Korea’s human rights, which includes the end of China’s forced repatriation of refugees. China also needs to allow several organizations, such as the UN, to step into its borders. The resumption of the Six-Party Talks would be a prime opportunity to discuss gulag-treatment with North Korea. The meetings were held among six nations: China, Russia, Japan, the United States, South Korea, and North Korea. These meetings, although they have been temporarily discontinued, could serve as a forum where the countries step aside from nuclear diplomacy and give much-needed attention to the abuses of human rights at the gulag.