New satellite images of North Korean prison camps

7 March 2013

Analysis of new satellite images shows the North Korean government is blurring the lines between its political prison camps and the surrounding population, Amnesty International said on Thursday. 

Satellite image of North Korean prison campThe organisation called on the UN to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry into grave, systematic and widespread human rights violations in North Korea—including crimes against humanity.  

Responding to reports of the possible construction of a new political prison camp, Kwan-li-so, adjacent to Camp No. 14 in Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, Amnesty International USA commissioned satellite imagery and analysis of the area from the commercial provider DigitalGlobe.  

New construction

Analysts found that from 2006 to February 2013, North Korea constructed 20km of perimeter around the Ch’oma-Bong valley -- located 70km north-northeast of Pyongyang -- and its inhabitants. New controlled access points and a number of probable guard towers were also identified. Analysts also found construction of new buildings that appear to house workers, likely associated with an expansion of mining activity in the region.

The activity points to a tightening in the control of movement of the local population adjacent to Camp No. 14, thus muddying the line between those detained in the political prison camp and the valley’s inhabitants. This raises fears for the population within the perimeter the current conditions faced by them and the North Korean government’s future intentions for the valley and those that live there.  

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “We expected to find a new or expanded prison camp but what we actually found is, in some ways, even more worrying.   

“The creation of a security perimeter beyond what appears to be the formal boundaries of Camp 14 blurs the line between the more than 100,000 people who suffer in North Korea’s prison camp system and the neighbouring civilian population.”

Hundreds of thousands of people—including children—are held in political prison camps and other detention facilities in North Korea. Conditions are among the worst Amnesty International has ever catalogued, including forced hard labour, denying food as punishment, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. 

Many of those held in political prison camps have not committed any crime, but are related to those deemed unfriendly to the regime and detained as a form of collective punishment.


View this interactive map of North Korean's prison camp system:

Rajiv Narayan, North Korea Researcher for Amnesty International, said: “These latest images reinforce why it is critical that a robust independent Commission of Inquiry is established to investigate the grave and systematic human rights abuses that continue under North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s rule.” 

International access

Amnesty International is calling for unfettered access to the area for human rights observers, to include both the Ch’oma-bong valley as well as Camp No. 14, and for North Korea to officially acknowledge that political prison camps such as Camp 15 in Yodok and Camp 14 in Kaechon exist.

In 2011, Amnesty International published analysis of satellite imagery that showed the expansion of the notorious Yodok political prison camp, believed to house 50,000 men, women, and children.


According to former detainees at the political prison camp at Yodok, prisoners are forced to work in slave-like conditions and are frequently subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. Despite this overwhelming evidence the North Korean government continues to deny the camp’s existence. 

See our latest satellite images from North Korea and read our analysis of what the images mean.


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