North Korean prison camp escapee receives honourary doctorate from Dalhousie
Published Tuesday, May 20, 2014 7:45PM ADT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 20, 2014 7:48PM ADT
A North Korean man is sharing his remarkable journey from a prison camp to the convocation stage at Dalhousie University.
Born to prisoners inside Camp 14, Shin Dong-Hyuk grew up completely unaware of the outside world.
He witnessed dozens of executions per year inside the North Korean prison camp, including those of his mother and brother.
Dong-Hyuk escaped from the camp in 2005 – he is believed to be the only person born inside a North Korean camp to escape – but the 31-year-old’s body still shows the scars of torture.
“Even though it is difficult for me to continue talking about my past and the difficult situation of my past, I believe people need to know about my story and further, what is going on in North Korea,” he said.
Despite the violence and hardships he has suffered, Dong-Hyuk spread a message of love to Dalhousie University students on Tuesday, where he shared his story through an interpreter.
“Go places where there is no love and teach love and go to places where there is no happiness and teach happiness,” he said.
“I think that’s what a lot of International Development students want to do, is go to some of those dark places and bring some happiness and hope,” said Sarah Jane Lizt, a graduate of International Development Studies.
Assistant professor Robert Huish teaches a class in developmental activism. He said his students read Dong-Hyuk’s book and decided to take action, organizing peace marches, demonstrations and writing to members of parliament.
Dong-Hyuk found out about the students’ efforts on social media and a partnership was born. He received an honourary doctorate from the university on Tuesday.
“I never in my wildest imagination thought I would stand before the graduates in this sort of setting,” said Dong-Hyuk.
“We’ve set a first today. There’s never been a North Korean defector to receive an honourary doctorate,” said Huish. “This is the first in the world.”
Cuish said the activist is changing the way people look at North Korea’s regime.
“And we see that it’s not just a country with a bumbling little kid dictator, but it actually has its prison camps, 200,000, reminiscent of the Soviet Gulags or Nazi Germany, and it’s happening right now,” said Huish.
“Five years ago, people were more concerned about the missiles they are developing…so he is an inspiration and it’s really nice to have him here,” said graduate Jocelyn Cormack.
Dong-Hyuk said the Dalhousie University graduates have given him hope moving forward, that North Koreans will enjoy the same rights and freedoms as Canadians someday.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jayson Baxter