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Yad Vashem Reacts to Gas Chambers in North Korea

In Letter to UN Secretary-General, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev Calls for Investigation of Political Genocide

3 February 2004

Yad Vashem is appalled by reports of North Korea’s use of gas chambers to murder and perform medical experiments on political dissidents and their families. Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev has sent an urgent letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in which he calls for a full investigation of this insidious abuse of human rights. The issue is all the more severe due to North Korea’s status as a member of the UN. The internment, torture, and murder of North Korean political dissenters and their families was recently reported by the BBC.

In his letter, Shalev states with alarm that only six decades after the utilization of gas chambers to exterminate European Jewry, North Korea has apparently employed them against thousands of its own citizens. “The lives of untold thousands of North Koreans are in danger because their totalitarian government perceives them as a threat”, Shalev writes. “Although the rationale, scale, and context are vastly different, the chilling image of the murderers coolly watching their victims’ death agonies is all too reminiscent of Nazi barbarism.”

Shalev’s letter also reminds Annan of his speech on January 26 at the Stockholm International Forum, in which Annan said the world must do more to prevent genocide from ever taking place again, and raised the possibility of having Genocide Convention states set up a Committee to Prevent Genocide. Annan also said that genocide has happened in our time, while states even refused to call it by its name, to avoid fulfilling their obligations.

Shalev continues, “recent reports that a scientist passed nuclear weapons technology to several rogue states, including North Korea, keenly underscores the dangers posed by such regimes. We must remain aware that there is an unmistakable link between rogue states and international terrorists. This confederation of evil is honing its weapons and aiming them at diverse targets. The United Nations must put a stop to their use immediately, and work to disarm the linked forces of evil that threaten the enlightened nations of the world.” Shalev concludes, “Now is the time to implement the vision you set forth in Stockholm. You must act in North Korea.”