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The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) Launches Report Based on Former Prisoner Testimony and Satellite Imagery of
March 25, 2020


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) Launches Report Based on Former Prisoner Testimony and Satellite Imagery of North Korea’s Long-term Prison-labor Facility Kyo-hwa-so No. 1, Kaech’on

Report confirms the use of forced labor for over half a century. Eighty percent of prisoners are Ryanggang Province residents captured while attempting to cross into China. Witness testifies to the presence of shallow graves, corpses scattered as fertilizer. Different types of detention facilities have operated over time at this location, including a possible underground political prison camp.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C., has launched a report titled North Korea’s Long-term Prison-labor Facility Kyo-hwa-so No. 1, Kaech’on. This report is part of a comprehensive long-term project undergone by HRNK to use satellite imagery and survivor testimony to shed light on human suffering in North Korea. This study combines former prisoner testimony collected in 2019 with declassified satellite imagery collected during 1962–1972 and imagery from 2002 to 2019.

Kyo-hwa-so No. 1, Kaech'on is located in Kaech’on-si, Pyongnam, about 2.6 kilometers east of the city of Kaech'on and approximately 75 kilometers north-northeast of the capital city of Pyongyang.

The report can be downloaded from HRNK’s website (www.hrnk.org), together with other HRNK publications. For this report, HRNK analyzed 19 high-resolution pan-sharpened multispectral and pan-chromatic satellite images of Kyo-hwa-so No. 1 and its immediate environs.

Senior HRNK satellite imagery analyst and report author Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. pointed out that, “according to some accounts, Kyo-hwa-so No. 1 is assumed to be the oldest kyo-hwa-so in North Korea,” and “satellite imagery clearly shows a detention facility here since the 1960s.” As Bermudez further detailed, declassified imagery collected by a CIA KH-4 reconnaissance satellite on December 15, 1962 shows the early stages of construction of Kyo-hwa-so No. 1.

Bermudez is an internationally recognized analyst, award winning author, and lecturer on North Korean defense and intelligence affairs, who previously testified before the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (UN COI).

HRNK executive director and report contributor Greg Scarlatoiu emphasized that “satellite imagery and witness testimony attest that prison labor has been employed systematically and extensively for over half a century, since the first half of the 1960s.” While coal mining continues, it has somehow subsided, due to the depletion of resources around the camp. According to witnesses, female prisoners are forced to work in agriculture, animal husbandry, knitting, vegetable farming, fruit trees, and plumbing. Male prisoners continue to work in adjacent coal mines and are also engaged in the manufacturing of shoes, belts, pistol holsters, and military boots.

Amanda Mortwedt Oh, HRNK human rights attorney and report contributor, pointed out that we now understand that, right next door to the Kaech’on Kyo-hwa-so, “an underground kwan-li-so political prison camp may have operated.” According to Mortwedt Oh, “currently a partitioned area of the camp may operate as a ro-dong-dan-ryun-dae, a labor training center tasked with dispatching prisoners to mobile forced labor brigades.” Mortwedt Oh emphasized that “we owe this new level of understanding in part to the brave people who speak out about their suffering inside the prison’s walls.”

Rosa Park, HRNK director of programs and report contributor, added: “One of the great strengths of satellite imagery analysis is in the fact that despite the Kim regime's attempts to cover up their crimes against humanity, the world will still be able to see clearly thanks to not only the most recent high-definition imagery, but also thanks to the historic imagery taken since 1962.”

Based on former prisoner testimony and high-resolution satellite imagery, the camp can be separated into the following features: internal and external security perimeters, entrance and guard positions; the main prison; headquarters, administration, barracks, guard, and administration housing and support facilities; labor training center/mobile labor brigade dispatch center, also comprising an older underground political prison camp; and walled compounds. The external perimeter of the camp is 1,590 meters long (1740 yards long). The total area of the camp is about 107,190 square meters (128,199 square yards).

According to witness testimony corroborated by satellite imagery analysis, prison population estimates for Kyo-hwa-so No. 1 have been between 2,000 and 6,000. Former prisoners confirmed that 80% of prisoners are residents of Ryanggang Province who were captured and subsequently imprisoned while crossing into China.

In 2019, HRNK interviewed Ms. Kim Il-soon (pseudonym), a former detainee at the camp. In a shocking disclosure, Ms. Kim told HRNK: ‘The kyo-hwa-so farmland in Kaech’on is yellow. The lands are very fertilized, and farming is successful here because the buried human bodies serve as natural fertilizer. Some guards said that they should bury the bodies evenly throughout the land so that it will fertilize the entire area.”

The camp is run by the Pyongnam-si Provincial Bureau of the Prisons Bureau of the Ministry of People’s Security (MPS), operating directly under the State Affairs Commission, chaired by Kim Jong-un, Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

Although this report comprises former prisoner testimony, senior satellite imagery analyst Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. emphasized that “it is important to reiterate that North Korean officials, especially those within the Korean People’s Army and the internal security organizations, clearly understand the importance of implementing camouflage, concealment, and deception (CCD) procedures to mask their operations and intentions.”

The report, North Korea’s Long-term Prison-labor Facility Kyo-hwa-so No. 1, Kaech’on, is available on HRNK’s website: https://www.hrnk.org//uploads/pdfs/Bermudez_Kaechon_FINAL.pdf.


Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director

[email protected]

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