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North Korea: New images show blurring of prison camps and villages

New satellite images show the North Korean government is expanding the perimeters of prison camps north of the capital Pyongyang and blurring the lines between the camps and the surrounding population there, Amnesty International warned today. The new images add to the body of evidence of North Korea’s extensive prison camp system, which the government continues to deny the existence of.

Amnesty made a new call for UN Member States to establish an independent Commission of Inquiry into the grave, systematic and widespread human rights violations in North Korea, including crimes against humanity. 

Responding to reports of the possible construction of a new political prison camp, Kwan-li-so, adjacent to Camp No. 14 in Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, Amnesty commissioned satellite imagery and analysis of the area. 

Analysts found that between 2006 and 2013, North Korea has constructed a new 20km perimeter around the Ch’oma-Bong valley, located 70km north of Pyongyang. The new perimeter includes civilian villages and encloses inhabitants within it. The satellite images also show the construction of newly established controlled access points and a number of probable guard towers.  Analysts also identified the construction of new buildings that appear to house workers, likely to be associated with an expansion of mining activity in the region. A new report which includes the analysts’ findings to accompany the publication of the images is available on request.

The activity points to a tightening in the control of movement of the local population, which likely muddies the line between those detained in the political prison camp and the valley’s inhabitants.

Frank Jannuzi, Amnesty USA’s  deputy executive director, said:

“We expected to find a new prison camp.  What we found is in some ways even more worrisome.

“The creation of a security perimeter with controlled access points and guard towers beyond what appears to be the formal boundaries of Camp 14 blurs the line between more than 100,000 people who suffer in North Korea’s Kwan-li-so system and the neighbouring civilian population.”

Hundreds of thousands of people, including children, are held in political prison camps and other detention facilities in North Korea, where they are subject to human rights violations such as forced hard labour, being denied food as a form of punishment, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment as well as summary executions. Many of those held in political prison camps have not committed any crime, but are related to people deemed unfriendly to the regime and detained as a form of collective punishment known as ‘guilt by association’.

Rajiv Narayan, North Korea Researcher for Amnesty International, said:

“The security and control adjacent to Camp 14 shows the degree to which general repression and restrictions on the right to liberty of movement have become commonplace in North Korea.

“These latest images reinforce why it is imperative a robust independent Commission of Inquiry is established to investigate the grave and systematic human rights abuses that continue under North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s rule.”

Amnesty International is calling for unfettered access to the area for human rights observers, to include both the Ch’oma-bong valley as well as Camp No. 14, and for North Korea to officially acknowledge that political prison camps such as Camp 15 in Yodok and Camp 14 in Kaechon exist.

In 2011, Amnesty International published analysis of satellite imagery that showed the expansion of the notorious Yodok political prison camp, believed to house 50,000 men, women, and children. According to former detainees at the political prison camp at Yodok, prisoners are forced to work in slave-like conditions and are frequently subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.  Despite overwhelming evidence, the North Korean government continues to deny the camps exist.

Amnesty is calling on UN member states to adopt a resolution at the 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council currently underway, to establish an independent Commission of Inquiry into the abysmal conditions and the general human rights situation in North Korea, described by the UN as being in “its own category”.

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