Camp 22 Inmates Disappear: People Gone from Gulag

    September 7, 2013
    Bennett Rieser
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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]
  • Reality

    What is sad is the US has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners. This does not take in to account our “detainees.” In places such as Georgia, 1 in every 13 people are in jail, on parole, or on probation (Source: Atlanta Journal and Constitution). We lock up more people per capita than Stalin did under his gulag system.

    Prison is big business in the US. That is why private prisons and prison industries are listed on the NYSE. Heck, Georgia has 23 industrial plants staffed by unpaid prison labor and then they force all government agencies to buy from them.

    People talk about prisoners around the world and don’t even know what is going on in their own country. Half the people we have in our prisons are non-violent and don’t belong there. The only thing the average american sees is what is reported to them on the news. We see the worst of the worst criminals and assume all are like that. They don’t see the average person in a court room and how suspect the cases are. Most people, who plead guilty, are threatened and intimidated by DAs. Anyone who has ever been in a courtroom knows our justice system is fundamentally broken.