North Korean

Detention Facilities

48.4% of North Korean human rights violations take place in detention facilities

According to the Unified Human Rights Database operated by NKDB, around 48.4% of cases take place in a detention facility. As of July 2020, 30,057 out of 78,798 cases of human rights violations recorded in the Unified Human Rights Database stem from illegal detention. 


of Locations of Human Rights Violations


Illegal Detentions

Updated in September 2020

There are over 700 operational detention facilities in North Korea

Based on NKDB's analysis of over 100,000 archived North Korean human rights violations, there are approximately 700 detention facilities currently in operating in North Korea. The restricted access to North Korea poses obstacles to making appropriate estimates about the size and management of these facilities. However, through extensive investigation and research, NKDB estimates that over 100,000 people are detained in these facilities. Data regarding North Korean detention facilities is primarily collected through official documents and presentation materials produced by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the testimonies of North Korean escapees who were imprisoned or formerly worked inside these facilities.

Major Types and Causes of Human Rights Violations in Detention Facilities

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  Detailed Cause
Condition of the Facilities
Inadequate Detention Facilities
Inadequate Medical Treatment
Operation and Management System
Violations in the course of arrest, trial, and process of preliminary investigation
Violations during entry into detention facilities
Violations during discharge
Lack of basic necessities
Inadequate food provision
Violations of human rights in everyday life
Extreme torture and violence against prisoners

Major Human Rights
  Public and Secret Executions
  Forced Abortion/Infanticide
  Torture and Assault
  Sexual Assault

Total Control Areas, Political Prison Camps

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Political Prison Camps

 As the core component of state terrorism, the political prison camps not only aim to strengthen the 'Juche' ideology and hereditary dictatorship but also to eliminate any ideological, political, and social uprising. All Political Prison Camps are currently operating as total control areas; the prisoners are deprived of their civil rights and forced to do intensive labor, experiencing pain until their death.

Currently Operational Political Prison Camps
Chongjin No. 25, Kaechon No. 14, Hwasong No. 16, Yodok No. 15
Operational Goals
Strengthen the hereditary dictatorship and eliminate any ideological, political, and social uprising 
Organizational and widespread torture and inhumane treatment, guilt-by-association, high-intensity labor exploitation, all currently operated as total control areas
Types of Prisoners
Political criminals, guilt-by-association
Number of Prisoners
Est. 100,000-200,000

Location and Current Situation of Political Prison Camps

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지도 사진 넣을 예정

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Type of Prisoners
No. 14
Oedong-ri & 5 other valleys, Kaechon City, 
South Pyongan Province
Offender and Family
No. 15
The areas of Ryongpyong-ri, Pyongjol-li, Ipsok, Taesung-ri, Kuup-ri & Sorimchon, Yodok County, South Pyongan Province
Offender and Family
No. 16
Areas of Puhwa-ri, Hwasong County, North Hamgyong Province
No. 25
 Susong-dong, Songpyong District, Chongjin City, North Hamgyong Province

The ways political prison camps are designated vary, but are generally called political prison camps in South Korea. In North Korea, they are called 'Control Centers (or Kwaliso),' 'Total Control Zones,' or 'Closed Zones.' Additionally, we know that political prison camps are officially referred to as a '0000 Unit' within the camps themselves, similar to the official designation for military units.

Under North Korean law and the law enforcement system, the regulations under which political prison camps are named, established, and operated has not yet become clear. However, through the experiences of those who have been detained there, as well as the testimony of those who have worked there, it has been confirmed that these political prison camps are meant to protect the 'Juche' ideology and the system that revolves around the leader. Any challenges to the ideology, politics or social order are prevented through a reign of terror that serves as the core of this system.

In order to prevent any future threats to the system, an extreme aspect of punishment through guilt-by-association was introduced, a concept difficult to accept in modern society. Through past investigations done by NKDB, there is reason to believe this practice continues today in places like Hwasong Political Prison Camp No. 16, where not those suspected of crimes, but their families, are detained. There are also camps where the suspect and the families are detained together, and for this reason, there are cases of camps that contain tens of thousands of prisoners, including Yodok Political Prison Camp No. 15, which spans over 1/3 of Yodok County in South Hamgyong Province.

Construction and Changes in the Population of Political Prison Camps

From the 1950s

Construction of the Political Prison Camps begins

The 1960s-1970s
The core of the class-strata (Landlords and Factory Owners) 
Prisoners of War (POWs), 
Families of expelled party members (Three Generations of Punishment)
The 1980s-1990s

International students, spies, etc.

The 2000s

Attempted defectors to South Korea, Christians, etc.

Dismantled Political Prison Camps

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NKDB Research Papers published on Political Prison Camps and Detention Facilities