Human rights group: Thousands of N. Korean prisoners 'disappeared' from gulag

06.09.2013 17:25

Tens of thousands of North Korean
prisoners have “disappeared” from an
enormous gulag situated in a region
where there were known food
shortages, prompting fears that they
may have starved to death before it
closed last year, according to a human
rights think tank.
Camp 22, a vast labor camp that
sprawled across 700 square miles –-
making it larger than Los Angeles –-
used to hold around 30,000 prisoners,
the Washington, D.C.-based Committee
for Human Rights in North Korea
(HRNK) said in an August report
entitled, "North Korea's Hidden Gulag:
Interpreting Reports of Changes in the
Prison Camps."
But that dwindled to only 3,000 in the
months before its closure at the end of
2012, it said.
At around the same time there were
reported food shortages in the area,
raising the possibility that large
numbers of inmates starved to death,
according to investigators from HRNK.
Defectors told them that as many as
8,000 prisoners may have been
transferred to other camps, leaving a
shortfall of up to 22,000 -- and there
are no suggestions that any inmates
were released, according to the report.
"North Korea's 2009 currency
devaluation (whereby camp authorities
were reportedly unable to purchase
food in markets to supplement the
crops grown in the camps), combined
with bad harvests, resulted in the
death of large numbers of prisoners
after 2010," it said.
The report details the situation in penal
colonies called kwan-li-so -- literally
translated as “managed places” -- as
Kim Jong Un consolidated his power
after taking over as leader from his
father, Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011.
HRNK, which gathers information from
defectors, including former guards and
survivors of prison camps, as well as
examining satellite imagery, is
demanding an inquiry into the fate of
the prisoners.
"If even remotely accurate, this is an
atrocity requiring much closer
investigation," concluded the report's
author David Hawk, a former United
Nations human rights official and
executive director of Amnesty
International USA.