‘Detainees are made to dig their own graves’: Former guard speaks out as satellite images show North Korean gulags are growing

Amnesty International report reveals female political prisoners are raped and then made to ‘disappear’

Satellite images have revealed that North Korea’s largest political prison camp is growing, according to a report from Amnesty International.

New housing blocks, security buildings and facilities for forced labour have sprung up in the two years analysed by the human rights organisation.

A former security official has also spoken out for the first time, telling activists how detainees are forced to dig their own graves and women are routinely raped and then “disappear”.

“The gruesome reality of North Korea’s continued investment in this vast network of repression has been exposed,” said Amnesty International’s Rajiv Narayan.

The North Korean government denies the existence of any gulags, despite various reports that hundreds of thousands of people, including children, are held across a number of detention facilities.

Former inmates and officials say detainees are made to do manual labour for 10 to 12 hours a day, allowed little sleep and kept on near-starvation rations.

Many are not charged with specific crimes, arrested instead on the basis of “guilt by association” because they know, or have family members who are, political dissidents.

A central area of Camp 16, shown in an image taken on 18 May 2011 A central area of Camp 16, shown in an image taken on 18 May 2011 Kwanliso 16, in the North Hamgyong province, is believed to be the largest political prison camp in the country. At 560km2, it is three times the size of the US capital Washington, DC, and in 2011 was estimated to hold 20,000 people.

The images released today, taken in May 2013, indicate an increase in Camp 16’s population with new housing blocks clearly visible. The pictures also showed further housing being built.

The same area of Camp 16, shown in May 2013 after additions to housing blocks The same area of Camp 16, shown in May 2013 after additions to housing blocks Significant economic activity - such as mining, logging and agriculture - is also clearly visible in the satellite images. They show an expansion of an industrial area within Camp 16.

Mr Lee, a former security official at Camp 16 in the 1980s until the mid-1990s, told Amnesty International of the methods used to execute prisoners. Detainees were forced to dig their own graves and were then killed with hammer blows to their necks, he said. He also witnessed prison officers strangling detainees and then beating them to death with wooden sticks.

According to Mr Lee, women were “disappeared” after being raped: “After a night of ‘servicing’ the officials, the women had to die because the secret could not get out. This happens at most of the political prison camps,” he said.

Though significantly smaller than 16, Camp 15 reportedly has a larger population of around 50,000. Satellite images show six new housing blocks have been built, though dozens seemed to have been demolished since 2011.

“We urge the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those prisoners of conscience held in political prison camps and close the camps immediately,” Mr Narayan said.

Amnesty International said it had shared its latest evidence with the UN Commission of Inquiry investigating human rights abuses in North Korea.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine