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.
Father Luis MontesAn Argentinian priest caring for the Catholic community in Baghdad says the faith of persecuted Iraqi Christians is moving and will continue inspiring future believers for generations. “The number of martyrs the Middle East is giving to the world is amazing. It is not well known but it will be in many years, and we will speak of them like we do of the acts of the martyrs of the early years of Christianity,” Father Luis Montes told Christian charity Aid to the Church in Need. “The faith they have despite the persecution is moving, as well as their sensitivity towards others,” he added, noting their profound devotion to the Virgin Mary. Christians and other minorities in parts of Iraq are being strongly persecuted by ISIS, a Sunni Islamist group that calls itself the Islamic State. After emerging earlier this year as one of the rebel groups fighting in the Syrian civil war, ISIS spread its operations to Iraq, taking control of Mosul and swaths of territory in the country's north and west. ISIS has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in its territory that mandates conversion, payment of a jizya tax, or death for Christians and other minorities who refuse to submit. Hundreds of thousands have fled due to the violence. Despite the terror that has overtaken their lives, Fr. Montes said the Christians in Iraq have remained firm in their faith. He cited the example of a Christian family in Qaraqosh harassed by jihadists and unable to flee. “The terrorists pressure them every day to convert to Islam. Their very neighbors insult them and treat them with scorn, and they can’t even leave their own home to buy food, which they are running out of. They cannot leave because they won’t let them, or because they are afraid the mother will be killed.” “One day, a group of terrorists entered the family’s home and they told them directly that they were going to take the mother away and make her some soldier’s slave. This is the frightening and terrible reality these people are experiencing and yet nevertheless they remain firm in their faith,” the priest explained. In his post on the website Friends of Iraq, Fr. Montes also discussed his own commitment to serving the people of the country. “The phrase I always say is: ‘I am not worthy to serve these people’,” explained the priest, who is a member of the Institute of the Word Incarnate. “This nation is giving martyrs. Almost all the people I know in Iraq and in other countries of the Middle East know a family member killed out of hatred for the faith,” he said. “Others have suffered direct persecution or discrimination. For us it is an honor to serve these people.” “Lord knows what He will ask of me in the future but as for me I would like to serve here my entire life.” Fr. Montes also expressed the appreciation of the faithful in Baghdad for Pope Francis, who recently sent his personal envoy Cardinal Fernando Filoni to convey his closeness to them. “This is very important to the Christians in Iraq. He conveyed the Holy Father’s care for these people and for us it is a great consolation. We pray for him.” The priest said the solution to the current crisis will require “humanitarian aid on a grand scale,” as the aid sent so far has been insufficient, as well as through intervention from the international community to stop the jihadists and cut off their financial sources. “If this is not done urgently, the cruelty, the murders and the deaths are going to go on for a long time,” he warned. More information about Friends of Iraq, the organization that Fr. Montes works with, can be found on their website, as well as their facebook page.,