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Date : March 23, 2016
HRNK-DC Released Satellite Imagery of NK Ch’oma-bong Restricted Area

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and AllSource Analysis (AllSource) Launch Report Based on Satellite Imagery of North Korea’s Ch’oma-bong Restricted Area

North Korea’s fifth operational political prison camp? Unprecedented “high-security internal compounds” constructed at the height of “fearpolitik,” high-value detainees likely present

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. and AllSource Analysis (AllSource), a leading global provider of high-resolution earth imagery solutions, have launched a report entitled North Korea: Ch’oma-bong Restricted Area.  

Ch’oma-bong Restricted Area is situated approximately 72 km north-northeast of the capital city of Pyongyang and approximately 9.5 km southeast of Kaech’on, South Pyongan Province, where Political Prison Camp No. 14 is located. For this report, AllSource used pan-sharpened multispectral satellite imagery collected by DigitalGlobe, Airbus Defense and Space, NASA’s EO-1, and Landsat from December 18, 2006 through May 24, 2015. Imagery analysis leads to the determination that the area is a kwan-li-so (political prison camp).
The Ch’oma-bong Restricted Area was established between 2006 and 2007. Although witness testimony is not yet available, satellite imagery analysis and a comparison of its infrastructure to North Korea’s known kwan-li-so indicate that it should likely be counted as one of North Korea’s newest political prison camps, the fifth fully operational detention facility of this kind. Neither the U.S. nor the ROK government has publicly classified Ch’oma-bong as a kwan-li-so yet, although North Korean gulag researcher Curtis Melvin associated the area to a kwan-li-so in January 2013.
Ch’oma-bong Restricted Area is a small and well-maintained prison camp, enclosed within a 20.4 km security fence. Approximately half of the outer camp perimeter is double-fenced, along areas more vulnerable to escape attempts. Three barracks, three outer perimeter entrances and checkpoints, and two internal entrances and checkpoints were identified. Although guard positions do not provide overlapping fields-of-view of the facility, they are located along the most obvious escape routes. The original village of Ch’oma-bong is situated about 500 meters to the southeast of the main camp entrance. Administrative offices of an adjacent coal mine are located about 800 meters southeast of the camp, together with local Korean Workers’ Party offices.
Between October 2013 and April 2014, two high-security internal compounds were established. These compounds are enclosed by a double-fenced security perimeter. Although the length of that security fence is only 3 km, almost seven times shorter than the 20.4 km outer camp perimeter, the internal high security area is protected by nine guard positions, two more than those lined up along the outer camp perimeter. According to HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu, such high-security internal compounds “have not been identified at other political prison camps in North Korea.” Scarlatoiu further added: “The construction of these internal high-security perimeters coincides with the escalation of Kim Jong-un’s ‘fearpolitik,’ during the purging of Jang Sung-taek associates prior to and after his execution in December 2013. It is possible that purged senior officials may be held at Ch’oma-bong’s high-security internal compounds, but witness testimony will be needed to definitively confirm this supposition.”
Economic activity within the camp area is focused primarily on mining, agriculture, and to a lesser extent light industry. The economic activity level at Ch’oma-bong is significantly lower than the level observed by HRNK and AllSource at Camps 14, 15, and 16. HRNK Executive Director Scarlatoiu interpreted this finding as “possible indication that Ch’oma-bong is more focused on punishing and isolating detainees, rather than ‘reeducating’ them through forced labor.” Satellite imagery analysis also suggests that some of the original residents of the area have remained within the new facility’s perimeter, while detainees were brought in to work and expand preexisting mining activities. The “non-detainees” appear to have a nominal degree of freedom of movement and access to food.
The report is the latest step in a collaborative effort by HRNK and AllSource to create a clearer picture of the evolution and current state of North Korea’s political prison camps. HRNK is the nongovernmental organization that put North Korea’s penal labor colonies on the map by publishing Hidden Gulag in 2003, Hidden Gulag Second Edition in 2012, North Korea’s Hidden Gulag: Interpreting Reports of Changes in the Prison Camps in 2013, andThe Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression & Prisoner Disappearances in 2015, all authored by world-renowned investigator David Hawk. Together, the two organizations have been closely monitoring North Korea’s political prison camps so that any attempts to distort the harsh reality of the camps by destroying evidence will not go unnoticed.
The report, North Korea: Ch’oma-bong Restricted Area, is available on HRNK’s website:
For media inquiries, contact: Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director
executive.director@hrnk.org; 202-499-7973

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