In a further development on the Korean peninsula of the worst possible kind, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea has launched a new effort to report on the conditions in North Korea’s prison camps.
Unfortunately, their discoveries of the chilling variety: drawing on interviews with defected guards and former prisoners on the run as refugees, two prison camps have been closed.
While the closure of prison camps would typically be thought of as a positive development, in North Korea’s case, it is indicative of possible genocide. In Camp 22 located in North Hamgyong province (one of two camps that closed), over 30,000 prisoners were held before 2012; at the end of that year when it closed, it held only 3,000 prisoners.
Where did they all go? They certainly weren’t released; report author David Hawk said of the number that if it is “even remotely accurate, this is an atrocity requiring much closer investigation.”
An NBC News report about the camps has food shortages blamed for the low numbers, implying many of the prisoners were starved to death. Defectors have said that about 8,000 prisoners were transferred.
Satellite activity tracked by the HRNK has shown that collective farming and mining has decreased significantly in recent years compared with previous images, perhaps indicative of the dwindling prisoner population.
The HRNK report is brief, albeit difficult to read: “The North Korean regime isolates, banishes, punishes and executes those suspected of being disloyal to the regime. They are deemed ‘wrong-thinkers,’ ‘wrong-doers,’ or those who have acquired ‘wrong-knowledge’ or have engaged in ‘wrong-associations.’ Up to 130,000 are known to be held in the kwan-li-so penal labor colonies where they are relentlessly subjected to malnutrition, forced labor, and to other cruel and unusual punishment. Thousands upon thousands more are forcibly held in other detention facilities. North Korea denies access to the camps to outsiders, whether human rights investigators, scholars, or international media and severely restricts the circulation of information across its borders.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the camps, particularly Camp 22, a series of YouTube videos featuring interviews with a former guard are available, but be warned about the disturbing nature of the stories and accompanying images.
[Image via one of the aforementioned YouTube videos]