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September 17, 2015




As More Women Flee Hardship, More Land in Pyongyang’s Gulag

WASHINGTON, Sept. 18, 2015—North Korea’s hardline regime is jailing increasing numbers of women, many forcibly returned from China after fleeing economic hardship at home, according to a report released today by the nonprofit Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression and Prisoner Disappearances “shows Pyongyang’s human rights situation remains abysmal,” HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu said. “Women—desperate to ensure their families’ survival after catastrophic famine in the 1990s—have been excessively victimized.”

To cope with economic hardship, numerous women have sought to leave tightly closed North Korea in search of opportunities to work or trade, mainly by crossing into China. “This report finds that, after their repatriation from  China, thousands of North Korean women have been arbitrarily arrested—and detention facilities for women have notably expanded,” Scarlatoiu said.

In particular, authorities have since 2008 added a new women’s section at the facility known as Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 in Jongo-ri, North Hamgyong Province, an impoverished region in the northernmost part of the country along the Chinese border, the report says. The new women’s section holds more than 1,000 prisoners.

"There is a kyohwaso in Hamheung where the North Korean authorities imprisoned women forcibly repatriated from China. As more women were forcibly repatriated from China, the authorities decided to open a facility closer to the border to shorten the time needed to transport the prisoners. This is the reason behind the expansion of the kyo-hwa-so at Jongo-ri," said Jung Gwang-il, former Camp 15 (Yodok) political prisoner.

David Hawk, a veteran human rights investigator, interviewed North Korean defectors over two months and worked with Colorado-based AllSource Analysis (ASA), a leading global provider of high-resolution satellite imagery, to produce the report, HRNK’s fourth on the topic since 2003.

“The North Korean gulag is no longer hidden. Its web of political prisons and labor camps—many visible on Google Earth—is there for all to see,” Hawk said. “But the men and women trapped inside this are hidden still, subject to enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and forced labor under extremely harsh conditions.”

Nicholas Eberstadt, HRNK Board member also pointed out that "North Korea's "hidden gulag" is no longer as hidden as it once was—thanks in part to David Hawk's path-breaking work in documenting its existence and detailing its operation."

“These political prisoners, especially women, are the most vulnerable persons in North Korea, and monitoring the camps through satellite imagery and analysis gives us the best possibility of bringing camp restructuring and the plight of political prisoners to light,” said Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. of AllSource Analysis and HRNK report author.

HRNK co-chair Roberta Cohen called on the international community to demand an accounting of all those detained, missing, or dead in North Korean detention. “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must be reminded of the mounting evidence that could soon be used to try him and his regime for crimes against humanity,” she said.

“Women in  particular are fleeing North Korea in ever greater numbers. When they are apprehended, they are subjected to deliberate starvation, persecution, and punishment. Their situation cries out for international attention,” Cohen said, noting that countless more North Korean women who cross into China are sold or forced into marriage or prostitution, as evidenced in another HRNK report, Lives for Sale, published a few years ago and available on HRNK.ORG.

The Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression and Prison Disappearances documents the particular vulnerabilities of North Korean women jailed in a network of “political gulags” (kwan-li-so) and “labor gulags” (kyo-hwa-so). Increasingly, these facilities house women who have attempted to flee the country, and here, rates of mortality, malnutrition, forced labor, and exploitation are high.

HRNK’s research further addresses “double disappearances,” or North Koreans who vanished first into political prisons and again as such detention facilities were dismantled  or relocated. "I believe the North Korean authorities dismantled [some of these facilities] because of the investigation of the UN Commission of Inquiry and increasing international attention," said Jung Gwang-il.

Jacqueline Pak, HRNK Board member said: “HRNK’s Hidden Gulag report series by David Hawk critically demonstrates why and how the human rights issues remain more vital and urgent than ever, as the fundamental rights of North Koreans continue to be breathlessly ignored by the Kim Jung Un regime.”

In  2014, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry accused the regime of grave, systematic, and widespread human rights abuses. The tightly closed, nuclear-armed Communist regime rejects such accusations, which it regards as part of a US-led effort to topple it.

HRNK was founded in 2001 as nonprofit research organization dedicated to documenting human rights conditions in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as North Korea is formally known. An estimated 400,000 people are believed to have died in the country’s system of political prison camps, while another 120,000 are jailed there now. Visit www.hrnk.org to find more about HRNK and download the entire report along with previous publications. The report is also attached to this email, as a PDF file.



Contact: Greg Scarlatoiu, [email protected]202-499-7973


Board of Directors

Roberta Cohen (Co-Chair)

Non-Resident Senior Fellow,

Brookings Institution

Specializing in Humanitarian and Human Rights Issues


Andrew Natsios (Co-Chair)

Former Administrator,

U.S. Agency for International Development


Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs

Executive Professor, The Bush School of Government & Public Service,

Texas A&M University

Author of The Great North Korean Famine


Suzanne Scholte (Vice-Co-Chair)


Defense Forum Foundation

Seoul Peace Prize Laureate


Gordon Flake (Vice-Co-Chair)

Chief Executive Officer, Perth USAsia Centre,

The University of Western Australia

Co-author, Paved with Good Intentions:

The NGO Experience in North Korea


Helen-Louise Hunter (Secretary)


Author of Kim Il-Song’s North Korea


John Despres (Treasurer)

Consultant on International Financial & Strategic Affairs


Morton Abramowitz

Senior Fellow,

The Century Foundation


Jerome Cohen

Co-Director, US-Asia Law Institute,

NYU Law School

Adjunct Senior Fellow,

Council on Foreign Relations


Lisa Colacurcio

Advisor, Impact Investments


Rabbi Abraham Cooper

Associate Dean,

Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles


 Jack David

Senior Fellow,

Hudson Institute


Paula Dobriansky

Chair, World Affairs Council of America

Adjunct Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs,

Kennedy School of Government,

Harvard University

Distinguished National Security Chair,

U.S. Naval Academy


Nicholas Eberstadt

Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy,

American Enterprise Institute

Author of books on North Korea including North Korea in Transition: Politics, Economy, and Society


Carl Gershman


National Endowment for Democracy


Stephen Kahng


Kahng Foundation


David Kim


The Asia Foundation


Debra Liang-Fenton

U.S. Institute of Peace

Former Executive Director, HRNK


Winston Lord

Former Assistant Secretary for East Asia,

Department of State

Ambassador to China

Director of Policy Planning Staff,

Department of State


Council on Foreign Relations


National Endowment for Democracy


Kevin C. McCann

Formerly of Counsel, Paul Hastings LLP


Marcus Noland

Executive Vice President and Director of Studies,

Peterson Institute for International Economics

Author of books on North Korea including Avoiding the Apocalypse: the Future of the Two Koreas


Jacqueline Pak


George Washington University


Katrina Lantos Swett

President and CEO,

Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice


Executive Director

Greg Scarlatoiu

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