Acton Institute Powerblog

Report: Largest North Korean prison camp has expanded

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Do Google Earth satellite images point to more grim news from inside North Korea? According to an article from United Press International (UPI), Curtis Melvin of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University noticed a substantial difference in satellite images of a North Korean prison camp from 2013 to some taken last month:

[A]erial snapshots from Oct. 15 indicated considerable changes have been made to Camp No. 16.

Melvin said the new changes included dams, hydroelectric power plants, apartments for the camp’s guards, an athletic field, a mine and fish farms. These facilities were not visible in satellite imagery taken in 2013.

The latest construction appears to indicate that North Korea is planning for an increase in the population of inmates detained at Camp No. 16 … In 2014, Amnesty International said in a statement the camp imprisons about 20,000 people and the prisoners are forced to work in very treacherous conditions. [emphasis added]

Camp No. 16, also known as Hwasong or Myonggan concentration camp or Kwan-li-so (Penal-labor colony) No. 16. Camp No. 16 is a prison-labor colony where detainees are expected to work for life with no hope of being released and it is the largest of all the penal-labor camps in North Korea. The UPI piece points out that it was one of five political prisons where up to an estimated 120,000 people are punished for various “crimes against the state.” Despite testimonies of defectors who survived these camps and later escaped North Korea, Pyongyang denies the existence of camps and has officially accused all the witnesses of lying.

One of the famous survivors of these awful camps is Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in Camp No. 14, but escaped the prison, and left North Korea. The inmates of the various camps are, according to the North Korean government, guilty of crimes against the state, and yet Shin wasn’t even alive yet when he was condemned to life imprisonment in Camp No. 14. A relative of Shin’s had defected to South Korea and in order to “repent of his sins,” the family left behind had to serve in the political camp. Shin’s mother was imprisoned and there she gave birth to him. Shin, who only after escaping realized what life is like outside the camp, said that he is “still evolving from an animal to human.” His horrific description of the colony and his story of escape are captured in Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14. Although the expansion happened at Camp No. 16, it is likely that the same kinds of atrocities and injustices against the inherent human dignity of the North Korean people are happening there too.

UPDATE: Shin Dong-hyuk has admitted that some details in Escape from Camp 14 are inaccurate; however:

[E]xperts on North Korea’s gulags vetted and accepted Shin’s story, and human rights activists said that the revisions did not alter the fundamental truth of the horrors of North Korean prison camps … The revisions did not change the key parts of Shin’s testimony, or that of the entire movement of defectors agitating for action against North Korea.

Sarah Stanley

Comments