North Korea remains one of the most repressive countries in the world. Kim Jong Un, the third leader of the Kim dynasty, continues to serve as head of government and the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, using threats of execution, arbitrary punishment of crimes, and detention and forced labour to maintain fearful obedience.
- Kaechon Kwan-li-so (Camp 14)
- Hoeryong Kwan-li-so (Camp 22)
- Yodok Kwan-li-so (Camp 15)
- Hwasong Kwan-li-so (Camp 16)
- Pukchang Kwan-li-so (Camp 18)
- Chongjin Kwan-li-so (Camp 25)
- Chungsan Kwan-li-so (Camp 11)
- Kangdong Kyo-hwa-so (Camp 4)
- Kaechon Kyo-hwa-so (Camp 1)
- Sariwon Kyo-hwa-so (Camp 6)
- Onsong Kyo-hwa-so (Camp 12)
- Tongrim Kyo-hwa-so (Camp 2)
- Human Trafficking
- Human Experimentation
- Hermit Kingdom
A 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) concluded the government committed crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence, and forced abortion.
Women in North Korea suffer widespread gender-based abuses in addition to the abuses suffered by the population in general. In detention facilities, security personnel have subjected women to rape and other sexual violence. Human traffickers and brokers, often linked to government actors, subject women to sexual exploitation and sexual slavery in China, including through forced marriage. Women face high levels of discrimination and sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, and constant exposure to government-endorsed stereotyped gender roles. State authorities engage in abuses against women and systematically fail to offer protection or justice to women and girls experiencing abuses.
Although North Korea, like China, had modelled its political regime after the Stalinist Soviet regime, North Korea later broke from the former Soviet Union in the late 1950s after Stalin died, believing that the Soviets wanted to dominate North Korea by interfering in its domestic politics (Clough, 1982; Lankov, 2005). After Stalin died in 1953, a de-Stalinization campaign was launched by Nikita Khrushchev in an attempt to create a new and more humane model of Leninist socialism with the plan that the party must remain in permanent control both domestically and internationally in other Communist states (Lankov, 2005).
In other countries, the elite leaders chose not to follow suit and they “either embarked on more radical experiments and distanced themselves even further from the original Stalinist model, or they struggled even harder to preserve the old patterns and, in the process of doing so, occasionally proved themselves more Stalinist than Stalin” (Lankov, 2005:2). North Korea was one of the few Communist states, along with Albania, Romania, and China, to reject the de-Stalinization campaign and remain loyal to the old Stalinist pattern.
In order for North Korea to have its political independence from the Soviet Union and China and to stop being subservient to the two domineering communist superpowers as a satellite, Kim Il-Sung started promoting himself as leader. Kim Il-Sung maintained a policy of being equidistant from China and the Soviet Union to avoid taking sides in the Sino-Soviet schism (Ha, 2005; Lankov, 2002, 2005; Park, 1998).
Purges of the factions inside the Korean Workers’ Party, from the 1950s to the 1960s
- Workers’ Party of South Korea faction: Unlike other factions that received support from China or the Soviet Union, the Workers’ Party of South Korea faction had no external sponsor and was therefore in the weakest position. Before the end of the Korean War, leaders of the faction, Pak Hon-yong and Yi Sung-yop were arrested and removed from power, charged for spying for the United States and planning a coup against Kim Il-sung. Along with some other members of the faction, they were sentenced to death and executed after the war, while others were sent to forced labour camps. The faction was virtually wiped out in North Korea.
- Soviet Korean faction: During the Korean War, Kim Il-sung drove from power Alexei Ivanovich Hegai (also known as Ho Ka-i), leader of the Soviet Koreans faction, whom he considered a potential rival, for the delayed repair of a water reservoir. He got rid of him through an alleged “suicide” in 1953. When Pak Chang-ok and other Soviet Koreans challenged his leadership in cooperation with the Yanan faction in 1956, Kim Il-sung convened a plenary session of the KWP in August to expel them from their positions in the Party. The Soviet Korean faction was disbanded and most of the members returned to the Soviet Union.
- Chinese Yanan faction: Kim Il-sung attacked the leadership of the Yanan faction during the Korean War when he was driven to the Chinese border. He blamed Mu Chong, a leader of the Yanan faction, for the failure of the military operations and expelled him and other military leaders, including Pak Il-u, minister of the interior and personal representative of Mao Zedong, from the KWP. In August 1956, when Choe Chang-il and other leading members of the Yanan faction devised a plan to attack Kim Il-sung, he accused them of being “anti-Party and anti-revolutionary factionalists” and dismissed them from the KWP and their positions. Several leaders fled to China to escape the purges, and Kim Tu-bong, a leader of the faction and nominal head of state, not directly involved in the “August incident,” was ultimately purged in 1958, accused of being the “mastermind” of the plot. He disappeared after removal from power. In the same year, the Yanan faction ceased to exist.
- Domestic Kapsan faction: During the second conference of the KWP in 1966, members of the Kapsan faction sought to introduce economic reforms, challenge Kim Il-sung’s cult of personality, and appoint their leader Pak Kum-chol as his successor. Kim Il-sung cracked down on the faction in a series of speeches made at party meetings. At a plenum of the KWP in April 1967, he completed the purges of all members of the Kapsan faction, accusing them for poisoning the Party with bourgeois ideology, revisionism and the feudal Confucian ideas. They were executed or sent to political prison camps. By eliminating the last faction that challenged his leadership, Kim Il-sung succeeded in establishing a one-man rule inside the KWP by the end of 1960s.
After eliminating political opponents who unsuccessfully attempted to replace Kim Il-Sung in the “August events” of 1956 — the only known open challenge to Kim Il-Sung’s supremacy — Kim Il-Sung secured complete domestic domination and his victory marked the birth of Pyongyang’s version of “national Stalinism” (Lankov, 2005).
Kim Il-sung was a politician and the founder of North Korea, which he ruled from the country's establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. He held the posts of Premier from 1948 to 1972 and President from 1972 to 1994. He was also the leader of the Workers' Party of Korea from 1949 to 1994. He outlived Joseph Stalin by four decades and Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong by almost two, and remained in power during the terms of office of six South Korean Presidents, ten US Presidents and the reigns of British monarchs George VI and later his daughter Elizabeth II. Known as the Great Leader (Suryong), he established a personality cult which dominates domestic politics in North Korea.
Juche is a North Korean concept that refers to the idea of self-reliance (Kim, 2002). This concept plays an important role in the government’s attempt to control its citizens; a practice that is shared by many totalitarian states, but no other state has matched the level of control in North Korea (Kim, 2002). The ability to control the masses leads to shaping their belief system. Kim Il-Sung used both terror by force and consent of the people through indoctrination of Juche to control the North Korean people.
Juche is said to entail a personality cult, in which Kim Il-Sung is worshipped as a deity by the North Korean people. It also allowed for the dynastic succession of dictatorship through inherited legitimacy from Kim Il-Sung to his son, Kim Jong-Il, following a long-term preparation for power succession. North Korea is the only “known” socialist regime that has been successful with this kind of transfer of dictatorship.
Kim Jong-il born Yuri Irsenovich Kim was a North Korean politician who served as the second Supreme Leader of North Korea from 1994 to 2011. Legend has it that a double rainbow and a glowing new star appeared in the heavens to herald the birth of Kim Jong Il, in 1942, on North Korea's cherished Baekdu Mountain. Soviet records, however, indicate he was born in the Siberian village of Vyatskoye, in 1941. The people of North Korea, many of whom are reportedly battling famine, are apparently told that Kim's birthday is celebrated throughout the world.
Kim Jong-nam (10 May 1971 – 13 February 2017) was the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. From roughly 1994 to 2001, he was considered the heir apparent to his father. He was thought to have fallen out of favour after embarrassing the regime in 2001 with a failed attempt to visit Tokyo Disneyland with a false passport, although Kim Jong-nam himself said his loss of favour had been due to advocating reform. Kim Jong-nam was exiled from North Korea c. 2003, becoming an occasional critic of his family's regime. His younger paternal half-brother, Kim Jong-un, was named heir apparent in September 2010. Kim Jong-nam died on 13 February 2017 in Malaysia as the result of an apparent assassination, likely conducted by North Korea, with the nerve agent VX.
In 1998, Kim Jong-nam was appointed to a senior position in the Ministry of Public Security of North Korea, as a future leader. He was also reported to have been appointed head of the North Korean Computer Committee, in charge of developing an information technology (IT) industry. In January 2001, he accompanied his father to Shanghai, where he had talks with Chinese officials on the IT industry. In May 2001, Kim Jong-nam was arrested in Japan on arrival at Narita International Airport, accompanied by two women and a four-year-old boy identified as his son. He was travelling on a forged Dominican Passport using a Chinese alias, Pang Xiong (胖熊; 'fat bear'). After being detained, he was deported to China, where he said he was travelling to Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland. The incident caused his father to cancel a planned visit to China due to the embarrassment it caused him.
Until the Tokyo incident, Kim Jong-nam was expected to become leader of the country after his father. In February 2003, the Korean People's Army began a propaganda campaign under the slogan “The Respected Mother is the Most Faithful and Loyal Subject to the Dear Leader Comrade Supreme Commander.” This was interpreted as praise of Ko Young-hee, and likely part of a campaign designed to promote Kim Jong-chul or Kim Jong-un, her sons. Kim Jong-nam's loss of favour was thought to have been caused by the Tokyo incident. However, Kim Jong-nam himself claimed that he had fallen out of favour due to advocating for reform. In an email to the editor of the Tokyo Shimbun, Kim Jong-nam wrote that after being educated in Switzerland, he “insisted on reform and market-opening”, leading his father to decide that he had turned “into a capitalist”.
On 13 February 2017, Kim Jong-nam died after being exposed to VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. It was widely believed that he was killed on the orders of his half-brother Kim Jong-un. Four North Korean suspects left the airport shortly after the attack, travelling back to Pyongyang. An Indonesian woman, Siti Aisyah, and a Vietnamese woman, Đoàn Thị Hương, were charged with murder but said they thought they were taking part in a TV prank. In March 2019, Siti Aisyah was freed after the charge against her was dropped. In April, the murder charge against Hương was also dropped, and she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of “voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means”. She was sentenced to three years and four months in prison, but received a one-third reduction in her term, and was released on 3 May 2019.
Kim Jong-un () born 8 January 1982, 1983, or 1984) is a North Korean politician serving as Supreme Leader of North Korea since 2011 and the leader of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) since 2012. He is the second child of Kim Jong-il, who was North Korea's second supreme leader from 1994 to 2011, and Ko Yong-hui. He is the grandson of Kim Il-sung, who was the founder and first supreme leader of North Korea from its establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. Kim's leadership has followed the same cult of personality as his grandfather and father. In 2014, a UNHRC report suggested that Kim could be put on trial for crimes against humanity. He has ordered the purge or execution of several North Korean officials; he is also widely believed to have ordered the 2017 assassination of his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in Malaysia.
Following his father's death, Kim Jong-un was hailed as the “great successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche”. The Korean Central News Agency described Kim Jong-un as “a great person born of heaven”, a propaganda term only his father and grandfather had enjoyed. And the ruling Workers' Party said in an editorial, “We vow with bleeding tears to call Kim Jong-un our supreme commander, our leader.” In November 2012, satellite photos revealed a half-kilometer-long (1,600 ft) propaganda message carved into a hillside in Ryanggang Province, reading, “Long Live General Kim Jong-un, the Shining Sun”! Kim Jong-un frequently performs symbolic acts that associate him with the personality cult of his father and grandfather. Like them, Kim Jong-un regularly tours the country, giving “on-the-spot guidance” at various sites.
In December 2013, Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-thaek was arrested and executed for treachery. Jang is believed to have been executed by firing squad. Yonhap has stated that, according to multiple unnamed sources, Kim Jong-un has also put to death members of Jang's family, to destroy all traces of Jang's existence through “extensive executions” of his family, including the children and grandchildren of all close relatives. Those reportedly killed in Kim's purge include Jang's sister Jang Kye-sun, her husband and ambassador to Cuba, Jon Yong-jin, and Jang's nephew and ambassador to Malaysia, Jang Yong-chol. The nephew's two sons were also said to have been killed.
At the time of Jang's removal, it was announced that “the discovery and purge of the Jang group … made our party and revolutionary ranks purer …” and after his execution on 12 December 2013 state media warned that the army “will never pardon all those who disobey the order of the Supreme Commander”. O Sang-hon was a deputy security minister in the Ministry of People's Security in the government of North Korea, who was reportedly killed in a political purge in 2014. According to the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo, O was executed by flamethrower for his role in supporting Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-taek.
Kim is said to have 17 luxury palaces around North Korea, a fleet of 100 (mostly European) luxury cars, a private jet, and a 100-foot (30 m) yacht. In September 2015, the South Korean government commented that Kim appeared to have gained 30 kg in body fat over the previous five years, reaching a total estimated body weight of 130 kg (290 lb). Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea has continued to develop nuclear weapons, testing bombs in February 2013, January and September 2016, and September 2017. As of 2018, North Korea had tested nearly 90 missiles, three times more than in the time of his father and grandfather. In 2012, on the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung's birth, he said, “the days are gone forever when our enemies could blackmail us with nuclear bombs”.
The Washington Post reported in 2009 that Kim Jong-un's school friends recalled he “spent hours doing meticulous pencil drawings of Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan”.
On November 18, 2014, the United Nations voted in favour of a draft resolution to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung rejected the concept of civil rights for people who oppose the regime. There is an extensive system of informants throughout North Korea, which monitor Koreans with respect to political and other possible infractions without reference to formal civil rights. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has officially acknowledged the widespread human rights violations that regularly occur in North Korea. United Nation's Human Rights Resolution 2005/11 referred to specific types of abuses within North Korea:
- Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, public executions, extrajudicial and arbitrary detention, the absence of due process and the rule of law, imposition of the death penalty for political reasons, the existence of a large number of prison camps and the extensive use of forced labour;
- Sanctions on citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea who have been repatriated from abroad, such as treating their departure as treason leading to punishments of internment, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or the death penalty;
- All-pervasive and severe restrictions on the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association and on access of everyone to information, and limitations imposed on every person who wishes to move freely within the country and travel abroad;
- Continued violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women, in particular the trafficking of women for prostitution or forced marriage, ethnically motivated forced abortions, including by labour-inducing injection or natural delivery, as well as infanticide of children of repatriated mothers, including in police detention centres and labour training camps.
Freedom of expression
The North Korean constitution has clauses guaranteeing the freedoms of speech and assembly. In practice, other clauses take precedence, including the requirement that citizens follow a socialist way of life. Criticism of the government and its leaders is strictly curtailed, and making such statements can because for arrest and consignment to one of North Korea's “re-education” camps. There are numerous civic organizations, but all of them appear to be operated by the government. All routinely praise the government and perpetuate the personality cults of the Kim family. Defectors indicate that the promotion of the cult of personality is one of the primary functions of almost all films, plays, and books produced within the country.
Freedom of movement
North Korean citizens usually cannot freely travel around the country, let alone travel abroad. Emigration and immigration are strictly controlled. Only the political elite may own or lease vehicles, and the government limits access to fuel and other forms of transport due to frequent shortages of gasoline/petrol, diesel fuel, crude oil, coal, and other fossil fuels due to the severe sanctions placed on North Korea by the U.S. and other nations (satellite photos of North Korea show an almost complete absence of vehicles on all of its roads throughout the country, even in its cities).
According to The Independent, in May 2016 Kim Jong-un temporarily banned all weddings and funerals across the country, and freedom of movement into and out of the capital, preparing for a meeting, on 6 May, of the Workers' Party of Korea, the first gathering of its kind in 36 years. On 28 July 2020, UN human rights reported that women detained in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are being subjected to multiple, serious human rights violations at the hands of security and police officials. The women have been given inadequate quantity and poor quality of food, leading to extreme malnutrition.
Freedom of the press
Reporters Without Borders claims that radio or television sets that can be bought in North Korea are preset to receive only the government frequencies and sealed with a label to prevent tampering with the equipment. It is a serious criminal offence to manipulate the sets and receive radio or television broadcasts from outside North Korea. At a party campaign in 2003, the head of each party cell in neighbourhoods and villages received instructions to verify the seals on all radio sets.
As of 2017, North Korea occupies the last place on the Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. The constitution of North Korea provides for freedom of the press, but in practice, all media is strictly controlled by the government. The national media is focused almost entirely on political propaganda and the promotion of the personality cults surrounding Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. It emphasizes historical grievances toward the U.S. and Japan. As North and South Korea use different television systems (PAL and NTSC, respectively), it is not possible to view broadcasts across the border between the two countries; however, in areas bordering China, it has reportedly been possible to receive television from that country. A United Nations envoy reported that any North Korean citizen caught watching a South Korean film may result in that person being sent to a labour camp.
The North Korean famine, also known as the Arduous March or the March of Suffering, was a period of mass starvation together with a general economic crisis from 1994 to 1998 in North Korea. The famine stemmed from a variety of factors. Economic mismanagement and the loss of Soviet support caused food production and imports to decline rapidly. A series of floods and droughts exacerbated the crisis.
The North Korean government and its centrally planned system proved too inflexible to effectively curtail the disaster. Estimates of the death toll vary widely. Out of a total population of approximately 22 million, somewhere between 240,000 and 3,500,000 North Koreans died from starvation or hunger-related illnesses, with the deaths peaking in 1997. A 2011 U.S. Census Bureau report estimated the number of excess deaths from 1993 to 2000 to be between 500,000 and 600,000.
Professor Hazel Smith of Cranfield University describes how North Korean puppet Communism was heavily dependent on strings pulled from Russia:
Women suffered significantly due to the gendered structure of North Korean society, which deemed women responsible for obtaining food, water, and fuel for their families, which often included extended families. Simultaneously, women had the highest participation rate in the workforce of any country in the world, calculated at 89%. Therefore, women had to remain in the workforce and obtain supplies for their families.
Pregnant and nursing women faced severe difficulties in staying healthy; maternal mortality rates increased to approximately 41 per 1000, while simple complications such as anaemia, haemorrhage and premature birth became common due to vitamin deficiency. It was estimated that the number of births declined by about 0.3 children per woman during that period.
Children, especially those under two years old, were most affected by both the famine and the poverty of the period. The World Health Organization reported death rates for children at 93 out of every 1000, while those of infants were cited at 23 out of every 1000. Undernourished mothers found it difficult to breast-feed. No suitable alternative to the practice was available. Infant formula was not produced locally, and only a small amount of it was imported. The famine resulted in a population of homeless, migrant children known as Kotjebi.
North Korea has not yet resumed reliable self-sufficiency in food production and periodically, it relies on external food aid from South Korea, China, the United States, Japan, the European Union and others. In 2002, North Korea requested that food supplies no longer be delivered. In 2011, during a visit to North Korea, former US President Jimmy Carter reported that one third of children in North Korea were malnourished and stunted in their growth because of a lack of food. He also said that the North Korean government had reduced daily food intake from 5,900 to 2,900 kJ (1,400 to 700 kcal) in 2011.
Escaped North Koreans reported in September 2010 that starvation had returned to the nation. North Korean pre-school children are reported to be an average of 3 to 4 cm (1.2 to 1.6 inches) shorter than South Koreans, which some researchers believe can only be explained by conditions of famine and malnutrition.
Although the Food Security and Information Network (FSIN) acknowledged a major famine in North Korea in its 2017 report, the group also noted that statistics showing the scale of the famine are hard to find due to the repressive nature of the Kim regime as well as its efforts to convey the illusion of prosperity. According to a 2017 report by the United Nations, which made estimates based on satellite images and economic data, roughly two out of five citizens are malnourished. It has identified more than 13 million North Koreans in need of economic assistance, who are likely struggling to survive in the current conditions.
There are two types of Interment camps, Kwan-li-so (관리소) and Kyo-hwa-so (교화소), having researched this I'd state both are Concentration Camps:
Kwan-li-so: Political Penal Labor Colonies.
North Korea denies the existence of the political prison camps. Controlled by the State Security Department (Guk-ga An-jeon Bo-wi-bu) Prisoners are "forcibly disappeared" (deported to the kwan-li-so without any judicial process of legal recourse). Incommunicado detention (no contact with the outside world). Most inmates are imprisoned for life in "total control zones" (wan-jeon-tong-je-gu-yeok). Historically, up to three generations of family members imprisoned under "guilt by association" (yeon-jwa-je) system. All prisoners detained for political offences
Kyo-hwa-so: Long-Term Prison Labor Facilities
North Korea recognizes the existence of the kyo-hwa-so in the DPRK Criminal Law (Article 30). Controlled by the Ministry of People's Security (in-min Bo-an-bu). Many prisoners undergo minimal judicial procedures. Not incommunicado; families can sometimes bring food to the prisoner. Usually fixed-term sentences, after which the prisoner is released. Some released early due to severe illnesses or as part of a nationwide amnesty to commemorate the birth of the "Great Leader" or the founding of the Koreans Workers' Party. Prisoners detained for criminal and political offences.
Conditions inside North Korean prison camps are unsanitary and life-threatening. Prisoners are subject to torture and inhumane treatment. Public and secret executions of prisoners, even children, especially in cases of attempted escape, are commonplace. Infanticides (and infant killings upon birth) also often occur. The mortality rate is very high because many prisoners die of starvation, illnesses, work accidents, or torture.
Lee Soon-ok gave detailed testimony on her treatment in the North Korean prison system to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 2002. In her statement, she said,
Many other former prisoners, including Kang Chol-hwan and Shin Dong-hyuk, gave detailed and consistent testimonies on the human rights crimes in North Korean prison camps. Cruelty inflicted upon the people of North Koreans is incomprehensalbe for many people in the western world:
Former prison guard Ahn Myung Chul has reported that young doctors practice surgeries on prisoners without anesthesia. He also described deliberate efforts to study physical resistance by starving prisoners to death. According to him, “The people who carry out these executions and these experiments all drink before they do it. But they are real experts now; sometimes they hit prisoners with a hammer, on the back of the head.
The poor prisoners then lose their memory, and they use them as zombies for target practice. When the Third Bureau is running out of subjects, a black van is known as “the crow” turns up and picks out a few more prisoners, sowing panic among the rest. The crow comes about once a month and takes forty or fifty people off to an unknown destination.
It's hard to comprehend, even fathom with all the anti-White post WW2 propaganda narratives (Germany was initially against Communism) that the North Korean people have been forsaken to being subjected to Concentration Genocide for over seventy years whilst the rest of the world overlooked the atrocity.
Exacerbating the problem Western leaders did nothing but inflict starvation on the remaining Northern Koreans (the entire dystopian society is a prison camp) with international sanctions, psychotic dictators do not care about their people and use the actions of the west to distract resentment and hatred away from themselves.
Kaechon Kwan-li-so (Camp 14)
The camp was established around 1959 in central North Korea, near Kae'chŏn county, South Pyongan Province. It is situated along the middle reaches of the Taedong river, which forms the southern boundary of the camp, and includes the mountains north of the river, including Purok-san. Bukchang, a concentration camp (Kwan-li-so No.18) adjoins the southern banks of the Taedong River.
The camp is about 155 km2 (60 sq mi) in area, with farms, mines, and factories threaded through the steep mountain valleys. The camp includes overcrowded barracks that house males, females, and older children separately, a headquarters with administrative buildings, and guard housing. Altogether, around 15,000 are imprisoned in Kaechon internment camp.
The main purpose of the Kaechon internment camp is to keep politically unreliable persons classed “unredeemable” by the North Korean government isolated from society and to exploit their labour. Those sent to the camp include officials perceived to have performed poorly in their job, people who criticize the regime, their children, anyone who was born in the camp, and anyone suspected of engaging in “anti-government” activities.
Prisoners have to work in one of the coal mines, in agriculture, or in one of the factories that produce textiles, paper, food, rubber, shoes, ceramics, and cement. Livestock raising is considered the occupation of choice for the prisoners, as it gives them the chance to steal animal food and pick through animal droppings for undigested grains.
Food rations are scant, consisting of salted cabbage and corn. The prisoners are emaciated; they lose their teeth, and their gums blacken. Many die of malnourishment, illness, work accidents, and the after-effects of torture. Many prisoners resort to eating frogs, insects, rats, snakes, and even cannibalism in order to try to survive.
Eating rat flesh helps prevent pellagra, a common disease in the camp, resulting from the absence of protein and niacin in the diet. In order to eat anything outside the prison-sanctioned meal, including these animals, prisoners must first get permission from the guards.
There are 78 punishment cells in the camp, each 60 cm (24 inches) wide and 110 cm (43 inches) high, where prisoners are locked up several days. Afterwards, many of them are unable to walk and some even die. Prisoners are often beaten, kicked or whipped. Lee Soon-ok was tortured, being forced to drink a large quantity of water until she fainted (water torture) and almost died. During her sentence, she witnessed many types of torture. Pregnant women are forced to have abortions by injections. Lee Soon-ok witnessed babies born alive being murdered directly after birth. As with all the prison camps, public executions are commonplace and usually done in front of all of the prisoners.
Prisoner: Lee Soon-ok
Lee Soon-ok (1987–1992 in Kaechon) was imprisoned on alleged embezzlement of state property, when she refused to put material on the side for her superior. She was sentenced to 13 years in a prison camp, but released earlier under a surprise amnesty. Lee Soon-ok (born 1947 in Chongjin, North Korea) is a former prisoner of a North Korean political prison and the author of Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman, an account of her ordeal of being falsely accused, tortured, and imprisoned under poor conditions for crimes against the state and her subsequent release from prison and defection from the country. Since leaving North Korea, she has resided in South Korea.
Lee was a manager in a North Korean government office that distributed goods and materials to the country's people when she was falsely accused of dishonesty in her job. She believes she was one of the victims of a power struggle between the Workers' Party and the public security bureau police. Following her arrest, she was severely tortured and threatened for months but maintained her innocence.
However, a promise made by an interrogator to not take any punitive action against her husband and son if she confessed—a promise that she would find out to have been false—finally convinced her to plead guilty to the charges. For six years, Lee was imprisoned in Kaechon concentration camp where she reported witnessing forced abortions, infanticide, instances of rape, public executions, testing of biological weapons on prisoners (see human experimentation in North Korea), extreme malnutrition, and other forms of inhumane conditions and depravity.
Lee described an experiment in which 50 healthy female prisoners were selected and given poisoned cabbage leaves (sauerkraut Germany?). All of the women were required to eat the cabbage, despite cries of distress from those who had already eaten. All 50 died after 20 minutes of vomiting blood and anal bleeding. Refusing to eat the cabbage would allegedly have meant reprisals against them and their families.
Lee’s story was published in South Korea in 1996 in the original Korean. Her story was subsequently translated into English and published in the United States in 1999. Lee has also testified about the North Korean human rights situation before the United States Congress. It is not clear why she was released, although Lee suspects that the officials responsible for jailing her were the subjects of investigations by higher-ranking members of North Korea's government.
Lee converted to Christianity (Christian missionaries always exploit captive mentalities) and so includes Christianity in everything she speaks and campaigns relentlessly for “Christian rights” in South Korea; not realizing the church of Christianity is a more insidious, slow burn form of Communist dictatorship that has for eighteen hundred years tortured and killed millions of indigenous European people. Both Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong were Christians, Stalin presented Russia as a defender of Christian civilization.
Prisoner: Ji Hae-nam
Ji Hae-nam (1993–1995 in Kaechon) was imprisoned for disruption of the socialist order, as she sang a South Korean pop song and was denounced by a neighbour. She was sentenced to 3 years in a prison camp, but released after 2 years and 2 months.
Hoeryong Kwan-li-so (Camp 22)
Hoeryong concentration camp (or Haengyong concentration camp) was a prison camp in North Korea that was reported to have been closed in 2012. The official name was Kwalliso (penal labour colony) No. 22. The camp was a maximum security area, completely isolated from the outside world. In the 1990s, there were an estimated 50,000 prisoners in the camp. Prisoners were mostly people who criticized the government, :131–132 people deemed politically unreliable (not including purged senior party members).
Based on the guilt-by-association principle (yeonjwaje) they are often imprisoned together with the whole family including children and the elderly, and including any children born in the camp. All prisoners were detained until they died; they were never released.
Kwon Hyok, a former head of security at Camp 22, described laboratories equipped with gas chambers for suffocation gas experiments, in which three or four people, normally a family, are the experimental subjects. After the people undergo medical checks, the chambers are sealed and poison is injected through a tube, while scientists observe from above through glass. In a report reminiscent of an earlier account of a family of seven, Kwon claims to have watched one family of two parents, a son and a daughter die from suffocating gas, with the parents trying to save the children using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for as long as they had the strength.
Kwon's testimony was supported by documents from Camp 22 describing the transfer of prisoners designated for the experiments. The documents were identified as genuine by Kim Sang Hun, a London-based expert on Korea and human rights activist. Hyok's testimony is also backed up by Soon Ok-lee, who was imprisoned for seven years. 'An officer ordered me to select 50 healthy female prisoners,' she said…
Hyuk has drawn detailed diagrams of the gas chamber he saw. He said: 'The glass chamber is sealed airtight. It is 3.5 metres wide, 3 m long and 2.2 m high_ [There] is the injection tube going through the unit. Normally, a family sticks together, and individual prisoners stand separately around the corners. Scientists observe the entire process from above, through the glass.'. 'It would be a total lie for me to say I feel sympathetic about the children dying such a painful death. Under the society and the regime I was in at the time, I only felt that they were the enemies. So, I felt no sympathy or pity for them at all.'
Defectors have smuggled out documents that appear to reveal how methodical the chemical experiments were. One stamped 'top secret' and 'transfer letter' is dated February 2002. The name of the victim was Lin Hun-hwa. He was 39. The text reads: 'The above person is transferred from … camp number 22 for the purpose of human experimentation of liquid gas for chemical weapons.' Kim Sang-hun, a North Korean human rights worker, says the document is genuine. He said: 'It carries a North Korean format, the quality of paper is North Korean, and it has an official stamp of agencies involved with this human experimentation. A stamp they cannot deny. And it carries names of the victim and where and why and how these people were experimented [on].'
Hyuk, reported that corpses were loaded into cargo coaches together with the coal, to be burnt in a melting furnace. The coal was delivered to the Chongjin power plant as well as to Chongjin and Kimchaek steel mills, while the food was delivered to the State Security Agency or sold in Pyongyang and other parts of the country. Camp No. 22 was so close to Hoeryong City, the residents of Hoeryong commonly knew about the prison camp. Local residents of Hoeryong report that regular citizens—farmers from Saebyeol and Eundeok counties, and miners from Onsong—were now moving into the farm-land and mines previously worked by prisoners.
The camp was divided into several prison labour colonies:
- Haengyong-ri was the camp headquarters with administration offices, a food factory, a garment factory, detention center, guards' quarters, and prisoner family quarters.
- Chungbong-ri was a mining section with a coal mine, loading depot, railway station, guards' quarters, and single prisoners' quarters.
- Naksaeng-ri, Sawul-ri, Kulsan-ri, and Namsok-ri were farming sections with prisoner family quarters.
There was an execution site in Sugol Valley, at the edge of the camp.
Former guard Ahn Myong-chol describes the conditions in the camp as harsh and life-threatening. He recalls the shock he felt upon his first arrival at the camp, where he likened the prisoners to walking skeletons, dwarfs, and cripples in rags. Ahn estimates that about 30% of the prisoners had deformities, such as torn off ears, smashed eyes, crooked noses, and faces covered with cuts and scars resulting from beatings and other mistreatment. Around 2,000 prisoners, he says, had missing limbs, but even prisoners who needed crutches to walk were still forced to work.
Ahn estimated that 1,500–2,000 people died of malnutrition there every year, mostly children. Despite these deaths, the inmate population remained constant, suggesting that similar numbers of new inmates arrived each year. Children received only very basic education. From the age of 6 onward they were work assigned, such as picking vegetables, peeling corn, or drying rice, but received very little food — only 360 g (13 oz) in all per day. Consequently, many children died before the age of ten years. Elderly prisoners had the same work requirements as other adults. Seriously ill prisoners were quarantined, abandoned, and left to die.
Ahn explained how the camp guards are taught that prisoners are factionalists and class enemies that have to be destroyed like weeds down to their roots. They are instructed to regard the prisoners as slaves and not treat them as human beings. Based on this, the guards may at any time kill any prisoner who does not obey their orders. Kwon reported that as a security officer, he could decide whether or not to kill a prisoner if he or she violated a rule. He admitted that once he ordered the execution of 31 people from five families in a collective punishment because one member of a family tried to escape.
In the 1980s, public executions took place approximately once a week, according to Kwon. However, Ahn reported that in the 1990s they were replaced by secret executions, as the security guards feared riots from the assembled crowd. Kwon was required to visit the secret execution site a number of times; there, he saw disfigured and crushed bodies. In case of serious violations of camp rules, the prisoners are subjected to a process of investigation, which produced human rights violations, such as reduced meals, torture, beating, and sexual harassment. In addition, there is a detention centre; many prisoners die in detention and even more leave the detention building crippled.
Ahn and Kwon reported about the following torture methods used in Haengyong-ri
- Water torture: The prisoner must stand on his or her toes in a tank filled with water to his nose for 24 hours.
- Hanging torture: The prisoner is stripped and hung upside down from the ceiling to be violently beaten.
- Box room torture: The prisoner is detained in a very small solitary cell, in which there is barely enough room to sit, but not stand or lie, for three days or a week.
- Kneeling torture: The prisoner must kneel with a wooden bar inserted near his or her knee hollows to stop blood circulation. After a week, the prisoner cannot walk and may likely die some months later.
- Pigeon torture: The prisoner is tied to the wall with both hands at a height of 60 cm (2.0 ft) and must crouch for many hours
Prisoners are beaten every day, if, for example, they do not bow quickly or deeply enough before the guards, if they do not work hard enough, or do not obey quickly enough. It is a frequent practice for guards to use prisoners as martial arts targets. Rape and sexual violence are very common in the camp, as female prisoners know they may be easily killed if they resist the demands of the security officers.
Ahn reported about hundreds of prisoners each year being taken away for several “major construction projects”, such as secret tunnels, military bases, or nuclear facilities in remote areas. None of these prisoners ever returned to the camp. Ahn is convinced that they were secretly killed after finishing the construction work to keep the secrecy of these projects.
Single prisoners lived in bunkhouses with 100 people in one room. As a reward for good work, families were often allowed to live together in a single room inside a small house, without running water. Houses were in poor condition; walls were made from mud and typically had many cracks. All prisoners were allowed access only to dirty and crowded communal toilets.
Prisoners had to do hard physical labour in agriculture, mining, and inside factories from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (7:00 p.m. in winter), followed by ideological re-education and self-criticism sessions. New Year’s Day was the only holiday for prisoners. The mines were not equipped with safety measures and, according to Ahn, prisoners were consequently killed almost every day
Former guards/prisoners (witnesses):
- Ahn Myong-chol (1990 – 1994 in Camp 22) was a prison guard and driver in the camp. In 1987, he was a prison guard in Kwan-li-so No. 11 (Kyongsong) and 1987 – 1990 in Kwan-li-so No. 13 (Changpyong).
- Kwon Hyok (1987 – 1990 in Camp 22) was a security officer in the camp. He defected six years later, when he worked as a military attaché in Beijing.
Satellite images from late 2012 showed the detention centre and some guard towers being razed, but all other structures appeared operational. It was reported that 27,000 prisoners died of starvation within a short time and the surviving 3,000 prisoners were relocated to Hwasong concentration camp between March and June 2012. Furthermore, it was reported that the camp shut down in June, security guards removed traces of detention facilities until August and then miners from Kungsim mine and farmers from Saebyol and Undok were moved into the area. According to another report, the authorities decided to close the camp to cover its tracks after a warden defected.