The disappearance of at least some 20,000 prisoners of conscience from North Korea's Camp 22-a massive concentration camp-is a huge massacre of an already brutalized population, reports Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service.
The camp was geographically larger than Los Angeles and thought to have once held between 30,000 to 50,000 prisoners.
According to a story by Robert Park published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune, satellite photographs indicate that guard posts, interrogation and detention facilities at the camp had been razed last year. By that time, those accused and exploited had been reduced to about 3,000.
While an estimated 7,000-8,000 prisoners are believed by some observers to have been taken away at night via train to similar slave labor/death camps No. 16 (located in a secluded mountain area in Hwasong County), and No. 25 (near the city of Chongjin), the rest remain unaccounted for.
In an August report, David Hawk of the Washington D.C.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) commented on Camp 22's rapid depopulation, “If even remotely accurate, this is an atrocity requiring much closer investigation.”
Park said North Korea's reasons for shuttering this camp should not surprise anyone.
On the basis of testimony from former camp guards Ahn Myong-chol and Kwon Hyuk, worldwide attention has been focused on the horrors which took place daily at Camp 22; a literal killing field.
Park said perhaps most shocking amid the revelations of the DPRK's inhumanity provided by Ahn and Kwon's lengthy and detailed confessions, are claims of human vivisection, and chemical and biological weapon experiments on prisoners. They includes the murdering of whole families in gas chambers.
The 2004 BBC This World documentary “Access to Evil” showed eyewitness testimonies and hard evidence (such as DPRK documents) suggesting that widespread human experimentation was taking place inside North Korea's prison camps.
The BBC's Olenka Frenkiel spoke at length with Kwon, the former chief of management at North Korea's Camp 22 and former military attaché at the North Korean embassy in Beijing, in addition to victims, North Korean officials, activists and outside observers.
Park said Kwon told Frenkiel, “I watched a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber: parents, one son and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but until the very last moment they tried to save the kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing. For the first time it hit me that even prisoners are capable of powerful human affection.”
When asked how he felt about the children who were being murdered in such a cruel manner, he candidly replied, “It would be a total lie to say I felt sympathy for the children dying such a painful death. In the society and the regime I was under, I just felt they were enemies. So I felt no sympathy or pity for them at all.”
Park said the film confirmed testimony from camp survivors going back to the late 1990's. Charges of human experimentation in North Korea continue to be further substantiated by more recent accounts, including those of North Korean chemists, former security officials and former prisoners.
In 2002, RENK, an established Tokyo-based NGO, interviewed Dong Chun-ok who was a former nuclear researcher at the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center where she said research for chemical weapons took place in addition to nuclear development.
She stated that in the research laboratories in Hamhung, chemical and biological weapon experiments took place on “prisoners or felons by using injections.”
Park said another North Korean defector who was forcibly repatriated from China in 2004, Kang Byong-sop, had claimed to be the chief electrical engineer at a chemical factory in South Hamgyong. He said he had smuggled out official “letters of transfer” for inmates from Camp 22 to be sent to the chemical complex for the “human experimentation for liquid gas.”
Kim Sang-hun, a retired U.N. official and chairman of the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights told the Los Angeles Times that he had known members of Kang's family for years. After carefully examining the papers, which carried the official stamp of North Korea's State Security Agency, he was “absolutely convinced (the letters are genuine.”
Kang is believed to have been hunted and arrested with Chinese-North Korean collaboration on the Chinese-Laotian border with his wife and youngest son after smuggling the documents out of North Korea. He was forced upon repatriation to give a complete retraction and point-by-point counter-story, and has not been heard from since.
Park said his other son, Kang Seong-kuk, was reported at the time to have narrowly escaped an abduction attempt by North Korean agents in Thailand.
Kim Sang-hun told Al Jazeera in 2009 that “Human experimentation is a widespread practice … The program is now a commonly known fact in the North Korean public.”
Park said Im Chun-yong, a former member of North Korea's elite special forces claimed to Al Jazeera for the same report that, “If you are born mentally or physically deficient … the government says your best contribution to society… is as a guinea pig for biological and chemical weapons testing.”
His then commander was said to have given up his 12-year-old daughter who was mentally disabled, while another of his colleagues who was guarding a testing facility witnessed “a number of people” murdered via “poisonous gas” in a “glass chamber.”
In May 2013, Park wrote, Joanna Hosaniak of the Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR) headquartered in Seoul delivered a report stating North Korea was presiding over chemical and biological weapon experiments on disabled children. That was based on recent testimony from a high-level North Korean government official who defected in 2012 and corroborated by a former DPRK police officer.
Park said the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Australia's former High Court Judge Michael Kirby, is now underway.
After hearing numerous testimonies from North Korea's victims who were able to escape, Kirby was moved to tears and told reporters, “An image flashed across my mind of the Allied soldiers, Russian, American, British, at the end of the Second World War, and the discovery of prison camps in the countries that had been occupied by Nazi forces.”
Park said a “full-fledged international inquiry” will be incomplete without careful examination of all existing forms of evidence which suggest that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea continues to (in the words of a June 13 White House statement on chemical weapons in Syria), cross “clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades.”
Robert Park is a former prisoner of conscience and human rights activist who entered North Korea on Christmas Day 2009 to protest against genocide and crimes against humanity taking place within the country.