Kaechon internment camp

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Kaechon internment camp
Chosŏn'gŭl 개천 제14호 관리소
Revised Romanization Gaecheon Je14ho Gwalliso
McCune–Reischauer Kaechŏn Che14ho Kwalliso
Chosŏn'gŭl 개천 정치범수용소
Revised Romanization Gaecheon Jeongchibeom Suyongso
McCune–Reischauer Kaechŏn Chŏngch'ibŏm Suyongso

Kaechon internment camp (Hangeul: 개천 제14호 관리소, also spelled Kae'chŏn or Gaecheon) is a forced labor camp in North Korea for political prisoners. The official name is Kwan-li-so (Penal-labor colony) No. 14. It is not to be confused with Kaechon concentration camp (Kyo-hwa-so No. 1), which is located 20 km (12 mi) to the northwest. This place is commonly known as Camp 14.


Kaechon internment camp is located in North Korea
Location of Kaechon camp in North Korea

The camp was established around 1959,[1] in central North Korea near Kae'chŏn county, South Pyongan Province. It is situated along the middle reaches of Taedong river, which forms the southern boundary of the camp, and includes the mountains north of the river, including Purok-san. Bukchang, a concentration camp (Kwan-li-so No. 18) adjoins the southern banks of the Taedong River. The camp is about 155 km2 (60 sq mi) in area, with farms, mines and factories threaded through steep mountain valleys.[2] [3]


Imprisonment at Kaechon internment camp is for life with no chance of release.[4] Prisoners are forced to do hard labour and have to work until they die. So called "politically unreliable" people and their families are deported, without any trial, to the camp,[1] where prisoners live completely isolated from the outside.

The camp is approximately 155 km2 (60 sq mi) in area.[5] The camp includes overcrowded barracks that house males, females, and older children separately, and a headquarters with administration and guards housing.[6] Altogether around 15,000 prisoners live in Kaechon internment camp.[7]


The main purpose of the Kaechon internment camp is to keep politically unreliable persons classed "unredeemable" isolated from society, and exploit them with hard labour. The term "unredeemable" is applied to people who want to escape North Korea's deeply repressive government, or people who have spoken harshly about the government or other non-criminal elements.[1] Also actual criminals may be sent to the camp. The labor at the camp is performed in mines and farms with primitive means.[7]

Human rights situation[edit]

Many prisoners of the camp were born there under North Korea's "three generations of punishment". This means anyone found guilty of committing a crime, which could be as simple as trying to escape North Korea, would be sent to the camp along with that person's entire family. The subsequent two generations of family members would be born in the camp and must also live their entire lives and die there. As reported by witnesses, the prisoners have to do very hard and dangerous work in mines and other workplaces from 5:30 in the morning until midnight.[8] Even 11-year-old children have to work after school and may see their parents rarely.[9] People are forced to work like slaves and are tortured in case of minor offences. The punishment for violating camp rules ranges from such punishments of having the tip of one's finger cut off, to being tortured for months, to death.[10][11]

Food rations are very small, consisting of salted cabbage and corn, so that the prisoners are very skinny and weak. Many die of undernourishment, illness, work accidents, and the aftereffects of torture. Many prisoners resort to eating frogs, insects, rats, and snakes to try to survive.[1][10] Eating rat flesh helps to prevent pellagra, a common disease in the camp which results from the absence of protein and niacin in the diet. In order to eat anything outside of the prison-sanctioned meal, including these animals, prisoners must first get permission from the guards.[1]

Imprisoned witnesses[edit]

Shin Dong-hyuk[edit]

Shin Dong-hyuk (born in Kaechon in 1982 as Shin In Geun;[1] escaped 2005) was born in the camp. His father was imprisoned because two of the father's brothers defected to South Korea during the Korean War.[1][10][12] Shin gave testimony of human rights abuses inflicted on him and witnessed by him as prisoner in Kaechon camp:[1][10]

  • When he told the guards his mother and brother attempted to escape (in hopes of acquiring an extra ration of food).[13] Shin was thrown into a small underground cell, where it is impossible to either stand or lie down, and was kept there and tortured for eight months.[14]
  • Later Shin was forced to watch the execution of his mother Chang Hye-kyong by hanging and his brother Shin Ha-kun by firing squad.[10][15][16] Shin had reported his mother and brother's planned defection to the guards. He was tortured for eight months before he and his father were forced to witness the two would-be escapees' executions.[10]
  • When Shin worked in a garment factory at the gulag and accidentally dropped a sewing machine, the foreman hacked off his right middle finger just above the first knuckle, as punishment.[10][17]
  • Shin witnessed dozens of public executions each year.[1][10]
  • Shin saw a six-year-old girl in his school being beaten to death for hoarding 5 kernels of corn.[1]
  • When Shin was 12 years old, he was separated from his mother and was rarely allowed to see her. Instead of attending school, the children had to do all kinds of physical work including weeding, harvesting, and carrying dung.[10][14]
  • Between the ages of 13 and 16, Shin was forced to do dangerous construction work and saw many children killed at work; sometimes, four to five children were killed in a day. On one occasion, he saw eight people killed by an accident.[14]
  • Shin described how, at the age of 14, he was arrested, completely stripped, his legs cuffed and hands tied, and was suspended from the ceiling of his cell. His torturers then lit up a charcoal fire under his back and forced a hook into his skin so that he could not struggle.[18] He still has a number of large scars from the burned flesh and from many other abuses.[10][19]
  • Shin's cousin was raped by prison guards and died later; when his cousin’s mother wailed, she disappeared and was never seen again.[20]
  • Shin saw how 12 fellow prisoners given toxic water for washing by the guards got seriously ill within a week; then they disappeared.[20]
  • When Shin escaped through the high-voltage electric fence surrounding the camp, his friend Park Yong-chul reached the fence first, and was fatally electrocuted.[1] He escaped by climbing over his friend's body.[10]

Kim Yong[edit]

Kim Yong (1995–1996 in Kaechon, later in Bukchang) was imprisoned when his relationship (which he covered up) to his father and brother, who both were executed as alleged US spies, was identified.[7] He witnessed approximately 25 executions in his section of the camp within less than two years.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Blaine Harden (16 March 2012). "How one man escaped from a North Korean prison camp". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 February 2013. 
  2. ^ "Committee for Human Rights in North Korea: Satellite Imagery of the North Korean Gulag: Kwan-li-so No. 14 Kaechon Overview, p. 209" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-12-07. 
  3. ^ North Korean Human Rights: Prison Camps in 2012..., ned.org; accessed October 30, 2014.
  4. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "UNHCR Refworld: Korean gulag escapee speaks out". Unhcr.org. Retrieved 2012-12-07. 
  5. ^ Harden, Blaine (July 20, 2009). "N. Korea's Hard-Labor Camps: On the Diplomatic Back Burner". The Washington Post. 
  6. ^ "Committee for Human Rights in North Korea: Satellite Imagery of the North Korean Gulag: Kwan-li-so No. 14 Kaechon Headquarters" (PDF). p. 211. Retrieved 2012-12-07. 
  7. ^ a b c "Committee for Human Rights in North Korea: The Hidden Gulag (Section: Testimony Kwan-li-so No. 14 Kaechon, p. 48)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-12-07. 
  8. ^ Yang Jung A (2007-07-03). "My Mother is Executed. Yet I am not sad.". Daily NK. Retrieved 2012-12-10. 
  9. ^ Sang-Hun, Choe (July 9, 2007). "Born and raised in a North Korean gulag". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Anderson Cooper (February 18, 2014). "UN witness describes horrors of North Korea (Anderson Cooper’s remarkable interview with Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in "Camp 14", a North Korean gulag described in a UN Human Rights report)". 60 Minutes Overtime. 
  11. ^ Shin Dong-Hyuk (December 1, 2008). ""A Glimpse of Horror", Radio Free Asia". Rfa.org. Retrieved 2012-12-07. 
  12. ^ "Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (NGO): I was a Political Prisoner at Birth in North Korea". Northkoreanrefugees.com. 1982-11-19. Retrieved 2012-12-07. 
  13. ^ Evie Salomon (February 18, 2014). "UN witness describes horrors of North Korea". WECT. 
  14. ^ a b c "North Korea: Political Prison Camps". Amnesty International. May 4, 2011. Retrieved November 22, 2011. 
  15. ^ Choe Sang-Hun (July 9, 2007). "Born and raised in a North Korean gulag". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 29, 2012. Retrieved March 29, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Escape From "Total-Control Zone", North Korea’s Papillon". Daily NK. May 11, 2007. Retrieved April 25, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Escapee Tells of Horrors in North Korean Prison Camp". Washington Post. December 11, 2008. 
  18. ^ "Born and Raised in a North Korean Prison Camps". ABC News. October 30, 2007. Retrieved March 26, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Medical Report and History of Shin Dong-hyuk". Life Funds for North Korean Refugees. July 9, 2007. Retrieved March 26, 2012. 
  20. ^ a b "I was a Political Prisoner at Birth in North Korea". Life Funds for North Korean Refugees. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  21. ^ "The Hidden Gulag – Exposing Crimes against Humanity in North Korea’s Vast Prison System (pp. 51-52)". The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Blaine Harden (March 29, 2012). Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West (HC (hardcover)). Viking. ISBN 978-0670023325. 

Coordinates: 39°34′16″N 126°03′20″E / 39.571086°N 126.055466°E / 39.571086; 126.055466