NGO, refugee, and press reports noted there were several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps, including forced labor camps and separate camps for political prisoners. NGO reports documented six types of detention facilities: kwanliso (political penal-labor camps), kyohwaso (correctional or re-education centers), kyoyangso (labor-reform centers), jipkyulso (collection centers for low-level criminals), rodong danryeondae (labor-training centers), and kuryujang or kamok (interrogation facilities or jails). According to the 2015 KINU white paper, the Ministry of State Security administered kwanliso camps and either it or the Ministry of People’s Security administered the other detention centers.
There were reportedly between 5,000 and 50,000 prisoners per kwanliso. Defectors claimed the kwanliso camps contained unmarked graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities. NGOs reported the existence of five kwanliso facilities, including Kaecheon (Camp 14), Hwaseong (Camp 16), Pukchang (Camp 18), and Chongjin (Camp 25). During the year reports continued to indicate that areas of Yodok (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province were closed or operating at a reduced capacity.
Kwanliso camps are comprised of total control zones, where incarceration is for life, and “rerevolutionizing zones,” from which prisoners may be released. Reports indicated the state typically sent those sentenced to prison for nonpolitical crimes to re-education prisons where authorities subjected prisoners to intense forced labor. Those the state considered hostile to the government or who committed political crimes reportedly received indefinite sentencing terms in political prison camps. In many cases the state also detained all family members if one member was accused or arrested. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.
Reports indicated that conditions in the prison camp and detention system were harsh and life threatening and that systematic and severe human rights abuse occurred. Defectors noted they did not expect many prisoners in political prison camps and the detention system to survive. Detainees and prisoners consistently reported violence and torture. Defectors described witnessing public executions in political prison camps. According to defectors prisoners received little to no food or medical care in some places of detention. Sanitation was poor, and former labor camp inmates reported they had no changes of clothing during their incarceration and were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing. The South Korean and international press reported that the kyohwaso held populations of up to thousands of political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals.
Both the kyo-hwa-so re-education camps and kwan-li-so prison camps host extremely brutal conditions, according to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri. The report noted that “the brutality affects both those convicted of actual offenses and those sentenced for essentially political offenses.”
According to the Hidden Gulag IV report, since late 2008 Jongo-ri (formerly referred to as Camp 12) in North Hamkyung Province was expanded to include a women’s annex. Jongno-ri’s women’s annex held approximately 1,000 women, most of whom the state imprisoned after repatriating them from China. Satellite imagery and defector testimony corroborated the existence of this women’s annex. Defector testimony also cited food rations below subsistence levels, forced labor, and high rates of death due to starvation at Jongno-ri.
According to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Flooding at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri, the kyohwaso or re-education center No. 12, Jongo-ri is located approximately 300 miles northeast of Pyongyang and 15 miles south of Hoeryong City. The report estimated the prison population at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 had ranged from 1,300 in the late 1990s to approximately 5,000 in recent years. The report highlighted the acute vulnerability of prisoners at this facility in northeastern North Korea, ravaged by heavy flooding as a result of Typhoon Lionrock. “This vulnerability has been exacerbated by the historically limited resources expended on civil infrastructure in this area by the central government in Pyongyang,” the report stated.
Physical Conditions: Estimates of the total number of prisoners and detainees in the prison and detention system ranged between 80,000 and 120,000. Physical abuse by prison guards was systematic. Anecdotal reports from the NGO Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the 2014 COI report stated that in some prisons authorities held women in separate units from men and often subjected the women to sexual abuse. The COI report added, “Cases of rape are a direct consequence of the impunity and unchecked power that prison guards and other officials enjoy.”
There were no statistics available regarding deaths in custody, but defectors reported deaths were commonplace as the result of summary executions, torture, lack of adequate medical care, and starvation. The COI report cited “extremely high rate of deaths in custody,” due to starvation and neglect, arduous forced labor, disease, and executions. The 2016 KINU white paper said that the decrease in the number of inmates from previous years could be the result of numerous deaths from harsh circumstances rather than any change in government policy.
Defectors also report that in Camp 14, prisoners worked 12 hours a day during the summer and 10 hours a day during the winter, with one day off a month. The camps observed New Year’s Day and the birthdays of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Children age 12 or older worked, and guards gave light duty to prisoners over 65 years of age. Prisoners provided supervision over other prisoners and worked even when they were sick. Prisoners who failed to meet work quotas reportedly faced reduced meals and violence. Those caught stealing faced arbitrary and serious violence.
NGO and press reports estimated there were between 182 and 490 detention facilities in the country.
By law the state dismisses criminal cases against a person under age 14. The state applies public education in case of a crime committed by a person above age 14 and under age 17, but little information was available regarding how the law is actually applied. Authorities often detained juveniles along with their families and reportedly subjected them to torture and abuse in detention facilities.
During the year the Database Center for North Korea Unified Human Rights indicated 953 cases of violations of the right to adequate food, highlighting these violations at various detention facilities. The data showed prisons had the highest level of these violations, with a percentage of 36.7 percent (350 cases), followed by investigation and detention facilities of the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security with 26.4 percent (252 cases), police holding camps with 14.7 percent (140 cases), labor training camps with 12.8 percent (122 cases), and political prison camps with 6.6 percent (63 cases).
Administration: No information on recordkeeping processes was publicly available. There was little evidence to suggest prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors. In past years defectors reported that authorities subjected Christian inmates to harsher punishment if the prisoners made their faith public, but no information was available regarding religious observance. No information was available on whether prisoners or detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions.
Independent Monitoring: There was no publicly available information on whether the government investigated or monitored prison and detention conditions. The 2015 HRNK Imagery Analysis of Camp 15 noted officials, especially those within the Korean People’s Army and the internal security organizations, clearly understand the importance of implementing camouflage, concealment, and deception procedures to mask their operations and intentions. The government did not allow the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK into the country to assess prison conditions. The government did not permit other human rights monitors to inspect prisons and detention facilities.