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The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) Launches Its Third Report Based on Satellite Imagery of North Korea’s Kyo-h
September 30, 2020


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) Launches Its Third Report Based on Satellite Imagery of North Korea’s Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jŏngŏ-ri – Update 3

Report confirms high death rate at the camp, presence of cremation facility operated to dispose of prisoners’ bodies. Report calls for the application of the Human Rights up Front Approach to UN and international NGO humanitarian interventions in North Korea, highlighting the importance of factoring in most vulnerable groups, including Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 prisoners. Report urges North Korea to abide by the Nelson Mandela Rules and the Bangkok Rules concerning the treatment of prisoners.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C., has launched a report entitled North Korea: Imagery Analysis of Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jŏngŏ-ri - Update 3. The report methodology comprises satellite imagery analysis and former prisoner testimony. This kyo-hwa-so detention facility was first featured in the September 2015 report The Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression and Prisoner Disappearances by David Hawk. HRNK released two subsequent satellite imagery reports in 2016, including a September 16 rapid assessment of flood damage at the detention center, in the aftermath of Typhoon Lionrock.

Unlike the kwan-li-so political prison camps, the kyo-hwa-so re-education through labor prison camps also detain common offenders, who are given actual prison sentences, held together with those sentenced for essentially political offenses. One feature that the kwan-li-so and the kyo-hwa-so have in common is the extreme brutality against prisoners, as evidenced by the deplorable conditions and treatment in detention.


Run by the North Hamgyong Provincial Bureau, under the Prisons Bureau of the North Korean Ministry of People’s Security [reportedly now the Ministry of Social Security], Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 is located about 490 kilometers northeast of the capital city of Pyongyang, and approximately 25 km south of Hoeryong City. It consists of two primary facilities: a walled prison facility commonly known as “Kyo-hwa-so No. 12;” and a copper mine situated in a small branch valley a short distance south of the prison facility. The walled prison facility measures approximately 188 meters by 128 meters (205 yards by 139 yards), encompasses 2,360 hectares (28,230 square yards), and is encased by three-meter high walls, four elevated guard positions, and two exterior entrances.

Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 was established between 1980 and 1983 in an area known for orchards, beans, potatoes, and corn farming and logging. Satellite imagery analysis confirms witness testimony that the camp has added light industry and mining to the economic activities performed by prisoners. Satellite imagery also confirms witness testimony that an annex to the compound was built in February – August 2009 to deal with an increase in the number of female prisoners.

Kyo-hwa-so No. 12’s prison population estimates have ranged from 1,300 in the late 1990s to about 5,000 in recent years. According to witness accounts, about 60% of all prisoners (80% of women prisoners) are incarcerated for illegally crossing the border into China. The remaining 40% have been detained for offenses including watching South Korean soap operas, drug usage, and contact with Christian churches in the border regions.

HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu pointed out: “According to witness testimony, the death rate at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 appears to be high. Most fatalities are the result of injury, illness, or physical and mental abuse by prison officials.” HRNK Senior Satellite Imagery Analyst and principal report author Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. emphasized that “an on-site crematory appears to operate to dispose of the bodies of prisoners in a surreptitious manner.”

A former prisoner provided HRNK with a gruesome account of the crematory operation: “Every Monday, we burned the corpses at Bul-mang Mountain. There’s a place that looked like a house, and we piled up the corpses in the round tank in it.”

According to Bermudez, "This imagery report takes us another step closer to understanding the cruel system of imprisonment in North Korea and highlights a real place where we know people are suffering beyond imagination. The atrocities committed throughout North Korea’s vast system of unlawful imprisonment, including Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, require the immediate attention of the international community."

HRNK Human Rights Attorney and report co-author Amanda Mortwedt Oh said: "One of the most powerful images that stuck with me after interviewing former prisoners of this camp is of prisoners drinking water or washing themselves with river water contaminated with ashes of deceased prisoners. The lack of human dignity afforded to prisoners is beyond repugnant, and the Kim regime must be held to account for such actions." Mortwedt Oh further stated: "Unveiling the location of the crematory at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 means that we must continue to monitor the high rates of death in detention and push for accountability on behalf of many innocents and their families."

Report co-author Rosa Park stated that “HRNK is committed to continuing to monitor the kyo-hwa-so long-term prison labor facilities in North Korea because the Kim regime must be held accountable. With this update, the international community must recognize that the Kim regime continues to commit crimes against humanity by inhumanely imprisoning the North Korean people.”

The report calls for a closer inspection of North Korea’s supply chain, tainted by forced labor. Former prisoner testimony included in previous HRNK reports on this facility had already confirmed that false eyelashes have been produced with prison labor at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12. The report calls on UN agencies and international humanitarian NGOs present in the immediate vicinity of the camp to incorporate a Human Rights up Front approach to their delivery of humanitarian aid to North Koreans in need. As HRNK Executive Director Scarlatoiu said, “humanitarian assistance must reach the most vulnerable. Prisoners at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, many of them political prisoners, represent a most vulnerable group. It is unacceptable that UN agencies and international NGOs would conduct humanitarian interventions in the area while completely ignoring the existence of a camp where the prison population is starved, exploited, and brutalized.”

Further, the report calls on North Korea to abide by the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) and the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Female Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules).

The report, North Korea: Imagery Analysis of Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jŏngŏ-ri – Update 3, is available on HRNK’s website: https://www.hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/KHS12_FINAL.pdf.


Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director

[email protected]

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