Satellite images show North Korean gulag prisons growing

Hundreds of thousands of people, including children, are detained in political prison camps and other detention facilities in North Korea. Many have not committed any crime whatsoever but are merely family members of those deemed guilty. They are detained as a form of collective punishment known officially in North Korea as “guilt-by-association”.

Amnesty International has shared the latest evidence with the UN Commission of Inquiry investigating human rights abuses in North Korea. The report is entitled “North Korea: Continued Investment in the Infrastructure of Repression”.

Researcher Rajiv Narayan, said:

  • “Under its new leader Kim Jong-un, North Korea is violating every conceivable human right.
  • “[Political prison] camps are a gruesome and powerful tool at the heart of a vast network of repression.
  • “People are sent to the political prison camps without charge, let alone a trial, many of them simply for knowing someone who has fallen out of favor.”

North Korea’s vast infrastructure of repression was exposed in satellite images taken in May showing the development of two of the country’s largest political prison camps. In a comprehensive mapping of camps, known as kwanliso, ’15’ and ’16’, Amnesty International found new housing blocks, an expansion of work facilities and tight security with perimeter fences and guard towers clearly visible.

Significant economic activity – such as mining, logging and agriculture – is  clearly visible in the satellite images and there is an expansion of an industrial area within kwanliso 16. Forced hard labor is common in North Korea’s political prison camps which hold an estimated 130,000 prisoners.

Kim Young-soon, a former detainee in Camp 15 between 1980 and 1989, described a public execution she witnessed of two detainees who were caught attempting to escape. She explained how they were first “half beaten to death” and then:  “They were brought to a stage after they were badly beaten. The prisoners were tied to wooden stakes and shot three times in their head, chest and feet.”

[Daily Mail]

North Koreans economic migrants or political refugees?

China defends the repatriations of North Korean refugees back to North Korea by claiming that the refugees are simply “economic migrants”.

Writes Suzanne Scholte of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, “Yet as soon as a North Korean crosses the border, they immediately fit the definition of a political asylum seeker because it is a crime against the state for a North Korean to leave the country.

“We know from eyewitness testimony that when North Koreans are repatriated they are subjected to harsh sentences, in some cases they are executed.”