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Torture tales at Senate hearing

Children eat U.N.-provided food in orphange in Pyongsong
International aid is needed for 6.5 million malnourished North Koreans.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Tales of torture, public executions, rampant starvation and human trafficking were woven throughout almost two hours of testimony Tuesday before a Senate hearing on North Korea.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican representative in Kansas, called the hearing of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee to highlight North Korea's alleged human rights violations.

"I'm hopeful that this hearing will begin to expose the true nature of the North Korean regime and its reputation as one of the worst violators of human rights in the world today," he said as the session opened.

Brownback compared the current situation in North Korea to that of Eastern Europe, just as its totalitarian states were collapsing.

"According to the report by the U.S. Committee On Human Rights in North Korea, hundreds of thousands have died of starvation and oppression, while others continue to languish in their gulags. We saw that in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union before its collapse," he said.

David Hawk, an investigator for the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, spoke of slave labor conditions in detention camps. He charged that North Korea imprisoned people for crimes he said included escaping into China in search of food to one woman arrested for singing a South Korean pop song.

Forced abortions, infanticide and public executions are commonplace in the labor camps, according to Hawk.

"Most of those imprisoned are there by virtue of a system of guilt by association in which not only the perceived political wrongdoer but members of his or her family, up to three generations, are imprisoned for life at hard labor," Hawk told committee members.

A spokesman from Amnesty International claimed 2 million North Koreans had died from starvation according to United Nations statistics, and said almost 50 percent of the population is malnourished.

Another spokesman, Joel Charney from Refugees International, said many North Korean women flee across the border into China to find husbands so they will not starve to death. Some of those women are kidnapped, sold into prostitution, or married off to the highest bidder.

Charney said there was a large market for these women in China due to China's "one child" policy and a preference for male children, which has caused an imbalance in the population.

All of the panelists agreed that the United States cannot turn its back on the human rights atrocities going on in North Korea, but there was no consensus on how to remedy the situation.

Brownback said military intervention is not the only answer.

"First, promoting democracy and freedom in North Korea and ending its nuclear threat do not need to involve military action by the United States," he said. "We should explore every possible avenue for a peaceful and democratic resolution of the stalemate on the Korean Peninsula."

The senator said he is preparing legislation that will promote freedom and democracy in North Korea.

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