Kaechon internment camp
|Kaechon internment camp|
|Chosŏn'gŭl||개천 제14호 관리소|
|Revised Romanization||Gaecheon Je14ho Gwalliso|
|McCune–Reischauer||Kaechŏn Che14ho Kwalliso|
|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 slave 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.
The camp, established around 1959, is located in Kae'chŏn county, P'yŏngan-namdo province in North Korea. It is situated along the middle reaches of Taedong river, which forms the southern boundary of the camp, and also includes the mountains north of the river like Purok-san. On the southern banks of Taedong river adjoins Bukchang concentration camp (Kwan-li-so No. 18).
Imprisonment at Kaechon internment camp is for life with no chance of release. Prisoners are forced to do hard labour, and have to work until they die. Politically unreliable people and their families are deported without any trial to the camp, where prisoners live completely isolated from the outside. The camp is around 155 km2 (60 sq mi) in area. The camp includes overcrowded barracks for males, females and older children separately and the headquarters with administration and guards housing. Altogether around 15,000 prisoners live in Kaechon internment camp.
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 repressive government, or people who have spoken harshly about the government or other non-criminal elements. Also actual criminals may be sent to the camp. The labor at the camp is performed in mines and farms with primitive means.
Human rights situation
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. Even 11-year-old children have to work after school and may see their parents rarely. People are forced to work like slaves and are tortured in case of minor offences. The punishment for violating camp rules is death. Food rations are very small consisting of salted cabbage and corn, so that the prisoners are very skinny and weak. Many of them die of undernourishment, illness, work accidents and the aftereffects of torture. Many prisoners resort to eating rats, snakes, insects and frogs in order to survive. Rat flesh is eaten as a way to prevent pellagra, a common disease in the camp which is a result of absence of protein and niacin in the diet. In order to eat anything outside of their meal, including these animals, prisoners must first get permission from the guards.
- When he told the guards his mother and brother attempted to escape, 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.
- Shin described how, at the age of 14, he was completely stripped, his legs cuffed and hands tied, and 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. He still has a number of large scars from the burned flesh and from many other abuses.
- 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.
- When Shin worked in the garment factory and accidentally dropped a sewing machine, the foreman hacked off his right middle finger just above the first knuckle as punishment.
- Shin witnessed dozens of public executions each year. Another prisoner Kim Yong witnessed around 25 executions in his section of the camp within less than two years.
- Shin saw a six-year-old girl in his school being beaten to death for hoarding 5 kernels of corn.
- 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.
- Between the ages of 13 and 16, Shin was forced to do dangerous construction work and saw many children killed in work. Sometimes, four to five children were killed in a day. On one occasion, he saw eight people killed by an accident.
- Shin’s cousin was raped by prison guards and died later and when his cousin’s mother wailed, she disappeared and was never seen again.
- Shin saw how twelve fellow prisoners were given toxic water for washing by the guards and got seriously ill within a week and then disappeared.
- When Shin escaped through the high-voltage electric fence surrounding the camp, his friend Park Yong-chul got electrocuted and died because of it.
- 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.
- Shin Dong-hyuk (born Shin In Geun) (1982–2005 in Kaechon) was born in the camp. His father was imprisoned because two of his brothers defected to South Korea during the Korean War.
- Human rights in North Korea
- Kaechon concentration camp
- Yodok concentration camp
- Pukchang concentration camp
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- Committee for Human Rights in North Korea – Overview on North Korean Prison Camps with Testimonies and Satellite Photographs
- Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (NGO) - Political prisoner Shin Dong-hyuk tells about his life in the camp
- Born and raised in a North Korean gulag - New York Times, July 7, 2007
- Escapee Tells of Horrors in North Korean Prison Camp - Washington Post, December 11, 2008
- Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights – Witness accounts by North Korean refugees
- Daily NK: Escape from “Total Control Zone” - North Korea’s Papillon – The Daily NK, May 11, 2007
- One Free Korea: Camps 14 and 18, North Korea: Satellite Imagery – Detailed satellite images with comprehensive explanations
- Blaine Harden, Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West , Viking (March 29, 2012), hardcover, 224 pages, ISBN 0670023329 ISBN 978-0670023325