Photos from the Laogai Museum
(Used with permission from the Laogai Research Foundation.)
All photos by Elizabeth Chu. © Committee for Human Rights in North Korea 2017.
By Elizabeth Chu
During my summer in Washington, DC, I had the opportunity to visit the Laogai Museum on the corner of 18th Street and T Street. It offers a one-of-a-kind exhibition showcasing the history and abuses of China’s vast network of prisons. I was appalled at the similarities of camp conditions between the Chinese laogai and the North Korean political prison camps. Derived from the Soviet gulag system in the 1950s, the political prison camps in North Korea and China were established for the purpose of containing political dissidence against their respective totalitarian governments. Over the last six decades, both systems have grossly perpetuated human rights abuses through the lack of due process, arbitrary detention, re-education, forced starvation and labor, torture, deaths in detention, and execution. The parallel between these two systems is undeniable. However, the North Korean and Chinese prison systems have evolved to possess several distinct characteristics. This article will focus on the implications of these key differences.
The North Korean Government Initiates Ban on Abortions yet Commits Forced Abortions against its Prisoners
By Amanda Mortwedt Oh, HRNK Project Officer
Radio Free Asia (RFA) recently reported that a new central policy was issued to North Korean healthcare workers on October 8, 2015, directing gynecologists not to perform abortions or implant birth control devices in their patients, and stating that birth control measures are illegal. Evidence suggests, however, that forced abortions are carried out in North Korea’s detention facilities, especially when the unborn baby is suspected to be “half-Chinese.” As HRNK has uncovered repeatedly in its research and reports, most recently in The Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression & Prisoner Disappearances by David Hawk, forced abortions are just one horrifying tactic the North Korean regime implements against women, something Mr. Hawk refers to in his report as a component of “gender repression.” Ms. Kim Min-ji, a former North Korean prisoner interviewed by Hawk, witnessed forced abortions during both of her forcible repatriations from China to North Korea. “The first time, in 2008, a pregnant woman was forced to take some medicine, after which the baby was aborted. The second time, in 2012, the holding center authorities had a baby surgically removed from the womb of a woman who was in the ‘last days of pregnancy.’ The baby was killed.”
By Christopher Motola, HRNK Research Intern
In our Former Prisoner Testimony section, we highlight notable accounts of people who were previously imprisoned in North Korea’s prisons. Two of the accounts are particularly striking. The stories of Ms. Bang Mi-sun and Ms. Ji Hae-Nam stand out not only because of their horrifying experience in the kyo-hwa-so (prison labor camps), but because of another element that is not usually mentioned when discussing North Korea–China. The North Korean people face countless struggles every single day, yet the source of their hardship is not solely the Kim Regime. The harsh reality is that even immediate escape from North Korea does not mean a relief from the nightmare. Instead, the situation is akin to the expression of going “out of the frying pan and into the fire.”
HRNK staff members and interns wish to dedicate this program to our colleague Katty Chi. A native of Chile and graduate of the London School of Economics, Katty became a North Korean human rights defender in her early 20s. Katty was chief of international affairs with the North Korea Strategy Center (NKSC) in Seoul from 2010 to 2014 and worked with the Seoul Office of Liberty in North Korea (LinK) from 2019 to 2020. A remarkable member of our small North Korean human rights community, Katty brought inspiration and good humor to all. Katty passed away in Seoul this past May, at the young age of 32. She is survived by her parents and brother living in Chile. With the YPWP series, we endeavor to honor Katty’s life and work.