The Concentration Camp System of North Korea

Anonymous Author/ August 30, 2017

The latest news from North Korea—another successful missile test, and the killing of “Supreme leader” Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam, apparently executed in Malaysia by members of North Korean intelligence—has brought the isolated country in East Asia back into the focus of international attention. 

The author does not wish to be named.


This attention has reached Pennsylvania Avenue 1600. After a number of rhetorical skirmishes between the two countries, US President Trump recently ordered the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson into the waters around the Korean peninsula. As it has been proven in Syria that unilateral action without any UN resolution is part of the President’s toolbox, the situation in East Asia is currently very uncertain.

The Depiction of North Korea

Whenever North Korea is depicted in the mainstream media the image seems to oscillate. On the one hand, it is often presented as an apparent black hole that nobody is able to explain or predict, and out of which every now and then something pops out, usually of a rather unpleasant nature and leading to condemnation either by states such as Japan, South Korea and their protector the US, or by the UN as a whole, as the latest examples demonstrate.

On the other side of the spectrum, one often finds a rather trivializing way of presenting North Korea. Kim Jong-un is portrayed as a ruthless and volatile but also entertaining and somewhat silly leader who loves Disney characters and abuses his powers to have amusement parks and ski tracts erected by a population which, at the same time, is dying of starvation.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea?

Regardless of these different types of depiction of North Korea, there is one factor that should concern any empathic human being and, in particular, any political leader in any country professing to represent ideas of universal human equality and dignity, and especially any leader who possess the necessary political power and means to make an impact.

Joseph Ferris III (retreived on Flickr): Pyongyang, North Korea; April 2012

The System of Political Prison Camps

This system of camps was mainly established in the 1950s and 1960s, inspired by the Gulags in the Soviet Union, the main goal being to strengthen and secure the rule of Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un, and it still exists in North Korea. It constitutes an extra-legal entity, separate from the common legal system, and is run by the SSD, the National Security Service, separate from the regular police forces. There are five or six camps now in operation, though it used to be around 15. In these camps there is an uncertain number of prisoners. According to UN estimate, there are between 80,000 and 120,000: other sources report 200,000. They are incarcerated under inhuman conditions.

Why Should This Be Addressed?

A number of reasons can be brought forward as to why people should be concerned about this, but I shall focus on two:

1. The reasons for which these people are sent into the political prison camps lack any of the juridical justification, or process within a framework of law, that would be found in any internationally acknowledged constitutional state.

2. Furthermore, the conditions under which these people live and suffer are not consistent with international principles such as the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which North Korea, as a member of the United Nations, is bound to.