“There were three dogs and they killed five children,” said Ahn Myong-Chol a former North Korean prison worker recalled the moment a group of schoolchildren were torn to pieces by a pack of guard dogs then buried alive by his colleagues.
“They killed three of the children right away. The two other children were barely breathing and the guards buried them alive,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of a Geneva conference for human rights activists.
The next day, instead of putting down the murderous dogs, the guards pet them and fed them special food “as some kind of award.”
Ahn Myong-Chol worked as a guard for eight years until he fled the country in 1994. The former guard is one of many defectors who testified to a UN-mandated enquiry that last week issued a 400-page indictment of gross human rights abuses in North Korea.
As the son of a high-ranking official he was ushered onto the prestigious path of becoming a guard in 1987, he says he was heavily brainwashed to see all prisoners as ‘evil’.
At his first posting at camp 14, north of Pyongyang, he was encouraged to practice his Tae Kwon Do skills on prisoners.
“We were allowed to kill them, and if we brought back their body, they would award us by letting us go study at college,” he recalls how guards were urged to shoot any prisoner who might try to escape. “Some guards would send prisoners outside the camp and kill them as escapees to gain access to a college education,” he added.
Ahn said he had beaten many prisoners but said that, to his knowledge, he had never killed any of them.
On leave in 1994, he returned home to find that his father had committed suicide after making some drunken, negative remarks about the country’s leadership. Ahn’s mother, sister and brother were detained and likely sent into camps, although he is not sure what became of them.
Though Ahn returned to work, he feared he too would be dragged off. So he drove his truck to the shores of the Du Man River and swam across to China, having to dump the heavy weapons he was carrying to avoid drowning.
“People in the camps are not treated as human beings… they are like flies that can be crushed,” Ahn said.