Part of a well-known North Korean prison camp used for the “re-education” of detainees has closed, satellite imagery and testimony highlighted in a new report by two American organizations has shown.
A “revolutionizing processing zone” at Camp 15 – in which prisoners were once re-educated to become eligible for potential release – appears to have been completely deconstructed, a report published Friday showed.
“Imagery analysis confirms the detainee facility and a small number of support buildings were razed between 2013-2014 and that the former “Revolutionizing Zone” is no longer used to house detainees,” Friday’s report said.
The analysis, the work of a collaborative project between Washington DC’s Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and the Denver-based AllSource Analysis (ASA), said no further activity had been observed at the former “Revolutionizing Zone” as of February 2015.
The development follows October 2014 claims by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) which suggested North Korea was removing and relocating prisoners from Camp 15, a claim echoed by media reports at the time.
But despite increasing evidence of a roll-back of activities at Camp 15, Friday’s report stopped-short of declaring a complete closure of the camp.
“The razing of structures or ‘downsizing’ of a camp does not imply that the entire political prison camp system is being dismantled,” the report said.
“Only after thorough analysis of newly acquired and archived satellite imagery, and only after cross-checking … (with) witnesses and in-country sources, will (we) be certain of the current status of Political Prison Camp 15.
News of the roll-back of Camp 15’s re-education wing comes amid wide-ranging stories detailing the closure, expansion and some cases shrinkage of elements of North Korea’s political prison infrastructure.
Stories suggesting the closure of Camp 22, located near the Chinese border in northern North Korea, have been circulating since 2012. Camp 18, located in Pukchang, was reported to have closed in the mid-2000s.
Satellite evidence highlighted by Curtis Melvin for NK News in 2014 showed that beyond fences coming down at Camps 18 and 22, specific efforts were also being made to convert the prison’s former villages into what appear to be ordinary collective farms and mines.
Go Myong-hyun, a North Korea specialist at the Asan Institute think-tank in Seoul, told NK News that the closure or shrinkage of some camps “does not quite square” with reports about Kim Jong Un purging senior officials.
“(The purging of Jang’s clan and followers alone might have netted a huge number of new inmates for these camps,” he said. “Or, maybe Kim Jong Un is simply executing them instead of sending them to camps.”
On the other hand, yet other camps have expanded: A report published by HRNK and ASA in 2013 said Camp 25, located near Chongjin, had “significantly expanded between 2009 and 2010.”
Satellite imagery specialist Curtis Melvin also speculated that imagery dated September 2011 suggested an expansion of Camp 14, in Kaechon County.
In overall context, HRNK and ASA suggested much improvement was still required in North Korea.
“Whether Camp 15 continues to be operational or not, North Korea’s vast system of unlawful imprisonment has not been dismantled,” the report said.
Main picture: Eric Lafforgue
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Featured Image: President Kim Il Sung Eternal Sun by Eric Lafforgue on 2008-04-17 09:34:43