Crimes Against Humanity: Slavery, Genocide and Concentration Camps – In Our Own Time? with Kang Chol-hwan

Kang Chol-hwan, North Korean defector and former inmate of the notorious Yodok concentration camp, addresses the 5th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.


Full remarks


Kang Chol-Hwan: It’s my honor to speak in front of you at the Geneva Summit.

This is a picture of my family. It was taken just after my release from the Yodok prison camp. The second from the right is my sister; she was taken back to the camp because she contacted me in South Korea. I filed the case to protest at the UN Commission of inquiry. This is a picture of prison camp number 16, located in South Hanggang province. From number 1 to number 12 are the Villages inside the camp.

When I was imprisoned in the camp I was between 1 and number 11. There was a revolutionizing zone in the camp. In the revolutionizing zone we would be imprisoned for certain terms, while Shinto Jo was imprisoned  in a total control zone, where prisoners serve their terms until they die. But I was imprisoned in a revolutionizing zone, so I had a hope of being released after [a] certain time. On the right side [points on map] once you get inside you cannot come out of there until you die. 

I was imprisoned in Yodok prison camp when I was nine years old and I stayed there until [I was] 19 years old. And for 10 years, I buried about 300 bodies of political prisoners inside the camp. There are frequent public executions and more secret prison camps. There are many people dying because of hunger, because of hard labor. It’s very routine happenings.

After I defected to South Korea, I read about Hitler’s concentration camps and Russia’s Siberian camps. I watched the movies about those camps. As far as I experienced, North Korean political prison camps have some similarities with those in the Nazi regime. In the past, the Soviet Union and its Communist Party did not purge its rivals completely, but Hitler had a concentration camp to purge his rivals. 

This is the map of political prison camps still in operation today. Shin is from Ketchen prison camp number 14, and there is Bookchang prison camp, and Yodak prison camp, where I was imprisoned. This is a camp near the nuclear test site. As far as I know, the construction of testing nuclear testing sites was done by prisoners of HuaSong political prison camp. So to carry out nuclear test[s], they constructed a massive testing site and it was only possible because of hundred[s] of thousands of political prisoners.

Currently, North Korea has six political prison camps and they detain about 1200,000 political prisoners. This is the map of key political prisons and other prisons and other detention facilities. This is a picture of other detention facilities. In North Korea there is a police holding camp in each province. And in each county, they have Labor Training Camps. So when we mark every Detention Facility existing in North Korea, there is no place we cannot find a Detention Facility.

So the whole country is a big prison so people’s human rights and basic freedom are not guaranteed at all. 

The North Korean regime is different in that they recently carried out a feudal succession of power. Because it’s an isolated country, it has a northern border with China and on the southern front, they have their key enemy South Korea. That’s why they could maintain total control over North Korea and their territory. Plus the Kim family is praised almost as g-d. So now the statues like these, there are 38,000 of them. No dictator ever made as many statues as the Kim family. 

It’s been 60 years since the Communist Kim family took power and recently after the death of Kim Jong-il, the second leader, his youngest son succeeded. There is a difference in the new leadership. Kim Jong-il’s leadership had a concentrated power, which was totally controlled by Kim Jong-il himself. But Kim Jong-un did not have a long period of power succession so he does not have complete control of the regime. On the surface the power seems to be concentrated on the new leader Kim Jong-un. But actually there is his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, [] his close ally, and his aunt Kim Kyong-hui. So power is distributed among a few leaders.

In the past, North Korea wanted to develop nuclear weapons and wanted to have missiles just in case America invade[d] North Korean territory. But now, the North Korea leadership does not believe there will be any attack from the outside world so they pursue this program for internal reasons, to consolidate their power. There is a great change these days through defectors. So now it is harder for the regime to control the society. They are making every effort to maintain control.This is the picture of the region where [a] nuclear test was carried out recently and they dug a big cave so it’s a great construction work; so they had to mobilize a great number of political prisoners. 

The reason why North Korea maintained a long dictatorship was because the International Community was indifferent to the grave situation of the political prison camps and other human rights situation[s] in North Korea. In the 1990s there [were] heavy casualties because of starvation during the arduous March period. In the case of Germany, western governments could maintain consistent policy for the sake of Eastern German fellows and their human rights. But [the] South Korean government has changed its policy very frequently and food support from the government was not distributed among North Korean civilians, but was channeled into the leadership and the army. So if they stopped their food aid at that time, I think the leadership would have collapsed already.

I think this is the ending stage of the North Korean dictatorship. So when we put pressure on the North Korean regime, financial and economic measures are not very effective. What the North Korean regime is afraid of most is that there are many North Korean defectors going to China, and the Chinese government is doing forcible repatriation of North Korean defectors to North Korea. So there has been no sign of change because anyone could be punished or secretly killed if they object to the regime. So North Korea is dispatching a huge number of laborers to overseas countries;  to [the] Middle East, to Africa, to Russia. But the regime [does] not provide any salaries to the laborers and they take advantage of those salaries and maintain the government.

So to stop this, we are trying to cooperate on this issue with ILO. Other than that, there should be more inflow of information so that people can realize their actual conditions. So the International Community should take new types of measures to diffuse external information; I think that is the best, most effective measure.

Thank you.

Speakers and Participants



Defying Totalitarian Regimes with Joo-Il Kim

Joo-Il Kim, North Korean defector and the founder of Free NK, a London-based online publication aiming to draw attention to the Kim-Jong Un regime’s abuses, addresses the 4th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks. Full remarks Joo Il Kim:  Hi, I’m a North Korean


Being a Banker to North Korea with Kim Kwang-Jin

Kim Kwang-Jin, a former banker to the North Korea regime, addresses the 9th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks. On the emergence and operations of North Korea’s alternate economy: “Following the collapse of the global socialist market, an unexpected thing

Political Prisoners

Scarred by North Korea with Timothy Cho

North Korean torture survivor and two-time defector from the regime, Timothy Cho, speaks at the 14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks. On growing up in North Korea: “I was born into a beautiful family in North Korea. My parents