North Korea Prison Camp 22 Kim Jong Un
Human rights groups fear that up to 20,000 inmates at a North Korean gulag have ‘disappeared.’ These groups worry that they may have been killed or starved to death. These suspicions arose as a result of a report conducted by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), which detailed the conditions of the gulags after Kim Jong-un assumed power from his father in 2011.

The report, North Korea’s Hidden Gulag: Interpreting Reports of Changes in the Prison Camps, reveals that two of the prisons have been shut down since Jong-un came to power. Since 2010, prisoners have regularly been subjected to starvation as the country’s currency was devalued (prison authorities have been ‘unable’ to purchase enough food for the prisons) and the country experienced a poor harvest season.

The report highlights Camp 22 located in the North Hamyong Province, which is more than 770 square miles. The camp mined coal to supply power to the Chongjin thermal power plant. The camp also had extensive farms for potatoes, beans, corn and other vegetables, but was shut down because of the poor harvest season. In late 2012, the camp shrank dramatically in size before its eventual closure.

Trains were seen departing from the area at night, heading south towards Camp 16 or 25. While 7,000-8,000 are believed to have been transferred to other camps, there are still tens of thousands unaccounted for. Because of the severe food shortages in the country, little if any food was given to the prisoners. During this time, the size of the prison decreased from 30,000 to 3,000.

However, more than 130,000 individuals remain imprisoned at the hands of the government. According to the report, “Through this vast system of unlawful imprisonment, the North Korean regime isolates, banishes, punishes and executes those suspected of being disloyal to the regime. They are deemed ‘wrong-thinkers,’ ‘wrongdoers,’ or those who have acquired ‘wrong knowledge’ and have engaged in ‘wrong associations.’” At these detention centers, detainees are subject to forced labor, starvation, and other cruel and unusual punishment.

Some claim that prisoners are even fed poison for experimentation. Women report having to kill their own children and stone one another to survive. Activists claim that around 40 percent of all prisoners die during imprisonment due to malnutrition, sexual violence, torture, abuse, or are worked to death. Last month, the United Nations committee of inquiry held hearings in Seoul and Tokyo to examine claims of human rights abuses by the North Korean government.

The HRNK worries that, because of the report, the government will attempt to erase any evidence of the atrocities or eliminate existing prisoners who might serve as witnesses to the crimes. David Hawk, author of the report and a former United Nations human rights official, said “If even remotely accurate, this is an atrocity requiring much closer investigation.”

– Kelsey Ziomek

Sources: NBC News, National Post, The Telegraph, Huffington Post
Photo: Huffington Post

Myanmar has had a long history of political unrest and has taken thousands of political prisoners over the past few decades. In 2011 there were approximately 2,100 innocent prisoners, most of whom did not support the Burma’s military, or were members of the National League for Democracy (NLD).  But now, after decades of imprisonment for some, Myanmar President U Thein Sein has promised to release all of them by the end of the year. In doing so he acknowledged that the prisoners were indeed, still being held.

Most of the prisoners have already been released since 2010 when Thein Sein took power, but as of April 2013, 176 still remain, and Thein Sein has guaranteed that there are soon to be no political prisoners of conscience in Myanmar. He made the announcement during a speech at Chatham House in Britain (Burma’s former colonial power) on July 15, saying that a special committee was being appointed to go over every political inmate’s case. He was in London to discuss trade and military ties in order to boost Burma’s economy. The 2010 election was an important turning point for Burma, having replaced military rule with military backed civilian government.

The most noteable prisoner was Aung San Suu Kyi who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her work as head of the NLD in the 1990 election, when it won 59% of the votes and 81% of parliament seats. But the NLD was never able to take power because Suu Kyi had already been detained under house arrest as a prisoner for speaking out against brutal dictator U Ne Win in July 1989.  She spent 15 of the next 21 years as a political prisoner, until her release in November, 2010.

Since he took office, Thein Sein has been working to promote human rights in Burma, which has seen much sectarian violence such as the recent fighting and killing between local Buddhists and the minority of Muslims. Rohingya Muslims in Burma have been said to be the most oppressed religious group in the world today.

At their meeting in London, English Prime Minister David Cameron discussed Burma’s ongoing violence with Thein Sein, asking him to do more to create peace in the region. Thein Sein promised a “zero tolerance” policy against anyone who fuels ethnic hatred.

Emma McKay

Sources: New York Times, Freedom House,, BBC
Photo: The Telegraph