Wiki: Hwasong Concentration Camp


The camp is located in Hwasong County (Myonggan County), North Hamgyong Province in North Korea. It is situated along the upper reaches of the Hwasong River in a secluded mountain valley. The western border is Mantapsan, a 2,205 m (7,234 ft) high mountain. On the north and east sides, the camp reaches the Orangchon River valley. The entrance gate is right on the Hwasong River and on the road from Hwasong, 8 km (5.0 mi) west of Hwasong-up (Myonggan-up).[1] The camp is not included in maps,[2] but the entrance gate and the ring fence with watchtowers can be recognized on satellite images.[3]

Description[edit source | edit]

Hwasong camp is a penal-labor colony in which detainees are imprisoned for life with no chance to be released.[4] With around 549 km2 (212 sq mi) in area[5] it is the largest prison camp in North Korea. Puhwa-ri (Chosŏn'gŭl: 부화리), 4 km (2.5 mi) north of the entrance gate, is the camp headquarters.[6] The number of prisoners is estimated at 20,000.[7] They are classified as "anti-revolutionary and anti-party elements" and held on charges such as opposing the succession of Kim Jong-il.[4] Many of the prisoners are merely family members of suspected wrong-doers, who are held captive in a “guilt-by-association” punishment.[8] It is believed that the camp was founded in the 1990s.[9]

Working conditions
[edit source | edit]

Prisoners are exploited for hard, dangerous, and deadly labor in mining, logging and agriculture.[8] According to Mr. Lee, a former security officer in Hwasong camp, the inmates were overworked and had very little time to rest. Prisoners had to work all day until they fulfilled their quotas and attend self-criticism meetings afterwards. Often they were allowed to sleep only four hours in the night. Mr. Lee witnessed many fatal accidents in the workplace.[10]

The North Korean nuclear test area at Mantapsan is just 2 km (1.2 mi) to the west of the camp border. Several defectors reported that political prisoners were forced to dig tunnels and build underground facilities in areas exposed to nuclear radiation.[11]
Human rights situation[edit source | edit]

Information is extremely limited, as the camp has always been a maximum security camp under strict control and surveillance.[9] An unidentified teenager reported how he was sent to the camp with his entire family at age 13. He witnessed his father being beaten cruelly and his mother and sisters being raped by security officers.[12][13] Residents from nearby villages heard about the horrific conditions inside the camp, but were never allowed to get near the camp.[12]

Security officer Lee explained the methods to execute prisoners in an interview with Amnesty International. He witnessed prisoners forced to dig their own graves and being killed with hammer blows to their necks. He also witnessed prison officers strangling detainees and then beating them to death with wooden sticks. According to him several women were raped by the officials and executed secretly thereafter.[8]

Camp expansion[edit source | edit]

Analysis of satellite images by Amnesty International in October 2013 shows that the prisoner population of Hwasong camp has slightly increased compared to 2008.[14] In several prisoner villages new housing structures and new administrative buildings can be identified.[15] Some of the new prisoners may have been relocated from Hoeryong concentration camp to Hwasong.[16]

Former prisoners/guards (witnesses)[edit source | edit]

Besides the unidentified teenager, no former prisoner was found to provide a direct testimony, probably for fear of retribution.[12]
Mr. Lee (full name withheld for his safety; 1980s - mid-1990s in Hwasong) was a security officer in the camp.[8]

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