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The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) Launches The First Report Based on Satellite Imagery of North Korea’s Chŭng
December 21, 2020


Report confirms prison labor, including pig production, for officials of the Ministry of Social Security (MSS). Report identifies a “flower hill,” where prisoners are reportedly buried, attesting to a lethal nexus of malnutrition, forced labor, and abuse. Report urges North Korea to uphold its Universal Periodic Review commitments and “grant immediate, free and unimpeded access to international humanitarian organizations to provide assistance to the most vulnerable groups, including prisoners.”

North Korea’s Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility is available on HRNK’s website here.

The report will be featured through an HRNK Zoom event on Monday, December 21, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. EST. The Zoom link is available at https://zoom.us/j/97903944732.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Washington, D.C., has launched a report entitled North Korea’s Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility. The report features never-before-seen satellite imagery of the camp. The combination of satellite imagery analysis of the facility and former prisoner interviews indicates that the Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility uses forced prison labor to conduct agricultural activities, livestock production (primarily pigs), and salt harvesting. The report finds that prisoners die in detention due to forced labor combined with malnutrition and abuse. This is the first known satellite imagery report of the Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility and includes over 100 pages of analysis with imagery from 1975 to 2020.

HRNK Senior Satellite Imagery Analyst and principal report author Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. observed, “The Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility is unique among North Korea’s notorious prisons not only for its length of service but for a combination of its dispersed organization and the reportedly high death rate due to malnutrition and brutality. Its inmates are directly tasked with providing meat, fish, and salt to the power-holding elite in Pyongyang—the very group that imprisoned them.”

Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility is a large, dispersed operational detention facility in Chŭngsan County, South P’yŏngan Province. There are at least 14 discrete, walled detainee divisions holding an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 prisoners in total. While the precise date of establishment of Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility is unknown, declassified imagery from December 29, 1975 shows the presence of facilities likely to have been used as a prison at that time—showing that this prison facility has been in existence for at least forty-five years.

Run by the South P’yŏngan Provincial Bureau under the Prisons Bureau of the Ministry of People’s Security (reportedly now the Ministry of Social Security), the Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility’s headquarters is located in Yongdŏng-ri, Chŭngsan County, South P’yŏngan Province, on the west coast of North Korea along the West Sea. It is approximately 39 kilometers west-northwest of the capital city of P’yŏngyang. The detention facility consists of a headquarters, at least 14 distinct detainee divisions, and two to three support facilities. In addition, the organization of the detention facility includes four Korean People’s Army bases or paramilitary reserve bases and the Sinsŏng-ri Fishery Station. Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility encompasses approximately 12.98 square kilometers (4.98 square miles) and is 4.88 by 4.16 kilometers (3.03 by 2.58 miles) in size.

Due to varying reports of changes in the prison over the last 20 years or longer, HRNK is presently unable to classify the type of prison facility that best characterizes Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility. Based on former prisoner testimony, it is highly probable that Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility is either a re-education through forced labor camp (kyo-hwa-so) or the base for a short-term mobile labor brigade/labor detention center (ro-dong-dan-ryeon-dae). In addition, it is unconfirmed whether Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility imprisons only women or both men and women because of conflicting reports. Nevertheless, former prisoner testimony corroborates a common, but chilling depiction of prisoner abuse at this facility.

A former prisoner stated that because of the extremely harsh conditions and treatment within the camp, an estimated 2,000 prisoners died or were executed each year during the early 2000s. Due to the high death rate, the prison population fluctuated constantly. The former prisoner went on to state: 

Bodies are usually buried without tombstones or signs. They would just put a paper with the name of the deceased and the date of death in a medicine bottle … When someone dies, they are temporarily buried in a small mountain right behind the hospital. Authorities of the camp chose this mountain to bury the bodies … People call this mountain the ‘flower mountain’ [identified in satellite imagery as the hill west and northwest of the hospital] because azalea blooms every spring and covers the entire mountain. The buried bodies act as natural fertilizer and help the flower trees to bloom.”

HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu urged that officials responsible for Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility’s operation be held accountable for human rights violations along the entire chain of command. Director Scarlatoiu stated, “The very presence of secret burial grounds and crematoria at camps scattered throughout the country indicates that the authorities assume and expect a high death rate in detention. Just like the Soviet GULAG, a camp such as No. 11 amalgamates economic exploitation of prisoners with the lethal nexus of forced labor and induced malnutrition. Seventy-two years after the Kim regime assumed power and 67 years after the death of Stalin, its cruelty is on par with the worst of Stalinist punitive practices.”

As Amanda Mortwedt Oh, HRNK human rights attorney, observed, “The Ministry of People’s Security’s top officials are sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury, including MPS Minister (General) Choi Pu-il and First Vice Minister (Colonel General) Ri Thae-chol, as well as MPS Correctional Bureau/Prison Bureau Director Choe Chang-pong and Counselor Ri Song-chol. This report provides a greater level of insight into the MPS’ command structure and organization at the detention facility level. Prison officials must make drastic reforms to end impunity among their ranks for human rights violations; however, this likely starts with an order from the top, that is Kim Jong-un.”

Report co-author Rosa Park stated that “Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility particularly demonstrates the importance of HRNK’s satellite imagery analysis of North Korea’s prison facilities over the past eight years. The facility has changed drastically since the first known image taken in 1975. The international community must continue to diligently track the ongoing changes in North Korea’s prison facilities for, at the very least, the sake of future justice and accountability.”

The report calls on North Korea to “grant immediate, free and unimpeded access to international humanitarian organizations to provide assistance to the most vulnerable groups, including prisoners” as per Ireland’s May 2019 Universal Periodic Review recommendation, which North Korea supported.

Further, HRNK urges United Nations agencies and NGOs operating near Chŭngsan No. 11 Detention Facility to consider the vulnerability of prisoners inside this facility and incorporate a Human Rights Up Front approach when delivering humanitarian aid to North Koreans in need.

North Korea’s Chŭngsan Detention Facility No. 11 is available on HRNK’s website here.

Contact:

Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director

[email protected]

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