Hoeryong concentration camp
The Hoeryong concentration camp, officially known as Kwalliso No. 22, was located in the northern province of North Hamgyong near the border with China. The camp was situated in a large valley surrounded by high mountains, with the nearest city of Hoeryong about 7 km away. At its height, the camp is estimated to have spanned 225 square km, making it one of the largest prison facilities in the country. It was completely isolated from the outside world by electrified fences, guarded towers, and geographical barriers.
History and Origins
Hoeryong concentration camp was founded around 1965 in a place called Haengyong-ri. Over the next few decades, the camp expanded to swallow up neighboring valleys and villages as North Korea’s network of political prison camps grew. By the 1980s and 1990s, Hoeryong’s population swelled with transferred prisoners when at least three other camps were shut down in the province. Based on accounts from former guards, anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 prisoners inhabited Hoeryong concentration camp by the 1990s.
Prisoners and Guards
Those condemned to Hoeryong concentration camp were deemed political enemies of North Korea’s regime. Many fell victim to “guilt-by-association” — imprisoned along with family members including children born in the camp for perceived political infractions of relatives. Besides political classify enemies, prisoners included South Korean POWs, Christians, those who attempted to defect, and even party members who fell out of favor with leadership. An estimated 1,000 guards ran the facility, equipped with automatic weapons and attack dogs.
Conditions in the Camp
Former guards describe life inside Hoeryong as horrifying even by North Korean standards. Prisoners were starved, with meager corn rations that led to rampant malnutrition and deformities. Children older than 6 were forced into labor. Housing was overcrowded and unsanitary. Prisoners worked long hours in mines and fields without safety measures or proper tools. Public executions and torture were common occurrences. Around 30% of prisoners showed signs of violent injury and mutilation. An estimated 1,500-2,000 prisoners died each year in the camp.
Human Rights Violations
Hoeryong concentration camp operated on the complete dehumanization of prisoners. Guards were taught to treat inmates as less than human. Execution and torture could be handed down for perceived infractions without oversight. Everyday violence included rape, medical experimentation, beatings, forced disappearances, and more. The camp was designed to slowly work prisoners to death through maltreatment and malnourishment.
Reports of Closure and Relocation
In 2012, satellite images revealed major changes at Camp 22. Guard towers were razed and parts of the facility destroyed. Reports emerged claiming a mass prisoner starvation had led the camp to be shut down and the several thousand survivors relocated. Speculation rose that North Korea closed Hoeryong to hide evidence of atrocities as eye-witness accounts leaked out. Verification remains difficult given the utter secrecy around North Korean camps.
While likely closed as a working concentration camp, the horrors of Hoeryong remain one of the most brutal examples of North Korea’s disdain for human rights. First-hand accounts from guards who defected helped expose the secret prison system’s cruelty. For many years, North Korea denied the existence of camps like Hoeryong. While closed, questions persist on the lasting impacts and if similar camps continue unseen. Hoeryong remains an important warning sign against authoritarian regimes unchecked by international criticism and oversight.
Hoeryong concentration camp operated for decades as one of North Korea’s largest and most deadly political prison facilities. Although likely shut down in 2012, it leaves behind a legacy of lives lost and human rights denied on an unspeakable scale. The secrecy in which it operated makes uncovering the truth difficult. But defector testimony helps verify the extreme brutality, torture, forced labor and executions defining the Hoeryong camp’s existence. It remains a cautionary lesson in what unchecked authoritarian regimes are capable of inflicting.
When was Hoeryong concentration camp founded?
Hoeryong was founded around 1965 in an area called Haengyong-ri in North Korea’s North Hamgyong province.
How many prisoners were in Hoeryong before closure?
Estimates place the prisoner population at around 50,000 by the 1990s before reports of closure. This made it one of North Korea’s largest camps at the time.
What conditions did prisoners face in Hoeryong?
Prisoners endured harsh, sub-human conditions including near starvation rations, rampant disease, forced labor, torture, public execution, sexual violence, human experimentation and more.
Why did North Korea likely close Hoeryong concentration camp?
Explanations include a mass prisoner starvation, attempt to hide evidence of atrocities as outside info leaked, or consolidation of prison population into fewer camps.
What lasting impact did Hoeryong concentration camp have?
Hoeryong exposed the brutality of North Korea’s political prison camp system. Its history stands as an example of totalitarian regimes’ cruelty when unchecked by law or international pressure.