Human experimentation in North Korea

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Human experimentation in North Korea is an issue raised by some North Korean defectors and former prisoners. They have described suffocation of prisoners in gas chambers, testing deadly chemical weapons, and surgery without anesthesia.[1] None of the allegations have been proven or backed up by any evidence, but they have been widely discussed and mediated by many notable media nonetheless.


Human experimentation was described by several North Korean defectors, including former prisoner Lee Soon-ok, former prison guards Kwon Hyok and Ahn Myung Chul, and others.[2] This testimony was corroborated by documents brought from Camp 22 in North Korea.[citation needed] In Lee's testimony to the U.S. Senate[3] and in her prison memoir Eyes of the Tailless Animals (published in 1999) she recounted witnessing two instances of lethal human experimentation. An episode of the BBC television programme This World[4][5] detailed some of the allegations.[6] The claims have been described as "plausible" by a senior US official.[who?][7]

Testing of deadly poisons[edit]

Lee described an experiment in which 50 healthy women prisoners were selected and given poisoned cabbage leaves. All of the women were required to eat the cabbage, despite cries of distress from those who had already eaten. All 50 died after 20 minutes of vomiting blood and anal bleeding. Refusing to eat the cabbage would allegedly have meant reprisals against them and their families.

Kwon Hyok, a former head of security at Camp 22, described laboratories equipped with gas chambers for suffocation gas experiments, in which three or four people, normally a family, are the experimental subjects.[8][9] After undergoing medical checks, the chambers are sealed and poison is injected through a tube, while scientists observe from above through glass. In a report reminiscent of an earlier account of a family of seven, Kwon claims to have watched one family of two parents, a son and a daughter die from suffocating gas, with the parents trying to save the children using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for as long as they had the strength.[4]

Kwon's testimony was supported by documents from Camp 22 describing the transfer of prisoners designated for the experiments. The documents were identified as genuine by Kim Sang Hun, a London-based expert on Korea and human rights activist.[4] A press conference in Pyongyang, organized by North Korean authorities, denounced this.[10][11]

Other experiments[edit]

Former prison guard Ahn Myung Chul has reported that prisoners were used for "medical operation practice" by young doctors who practice surgery on prisoners without anesthesia.[12] He also described deliberate efforts to study physical resistance by starving prisoners to death. According to him, "The people who carry out these executions and these experiments all drink before they do it. But they are real experts now; sometimes they hit prisoners with a hammer, on the back of the head. The poor prisoners then lose their memory, and they use them as zombies for target practice. When the Third Bureau is running out of subjects, a black van known as "the crow" turns up and picks out a few more prisoners, sowing panic among the rest. The crow comes about once a month and takes forty or fifty people off to an unknown destination."[13]

A North Korean scientist who was involved in the country's biological and chemical weapons programmes defected to Finland in 2015. He claims to have evidence[further explanation needed] of tests carried out on human subjects.[14]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Revealed: the gas chamber horror of North Korea's gulagThe Guardian
  2. ^ U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea - The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps (includes satellite photos of the known camps)
  3. ^ "Testimony of Ms. Soon Ok Lee". United States Senate. June 21, 2002. Retrieved 2009-12-15.
  4. ^ a b c Olenka Frenkiel (January 30, 2004). "Within prison walls". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-12-15.
  5. ^ Human guinea pigs BBC News
  6. ^ Auschwitz Under Our Noses, by Anne Applebaum, February 4, 2004, The Washington Post
  7. ^ "Death, terror in N. Korea gulag NBC News investigation uncovers horrific, extensive atrocities." by MSNBC
  8. ^ Revealed: the gas chamber horror of North Korea's gulag by Antony Barnett, February 1, 2004 Guardian Unlimited
  9. ^ Video testimonials by former guards and prisoners at Camp 22, where the experiments are said to have occurred, with Google Earth images Camp 22 and other camps
  10. ^ DPRK civilians admit faking papers on chemical weapons testing on humans at a press conference in Pyongyang, publication of People's Daily, an official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China
  11. ^ Truth behind False Report about "Experiment of Chem. Weapons on Human Bodies" in DPRK Disclosed (North Korean Central News Agency)
  12. ^ Ahn Myung Chul (January 18, 2006). "Prisoners Used for Medical Operation Practice". DailyNK. Retrieved 2009-12-15.
  13. ^ Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, 1999, hardcover, 858 pages, ISBN 0-674-07608-7, page 557
  14. ^ [1] The Telegraph

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