Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Thursday released new satellite images [text, photos, PDF] and an assessment of North Korea's political prison camps, which reveal new housing blocks, an expansion of production facilities and continued tight security. In a report titled "North Korea: Continued Investment in the Infrastructure of Repression," AI analyzed satellite images of political prison camp (kwanliso) 15 at Yodok in South Hamgyong province and kwanliso 16 at Hwaseong in North Hamgyong province gathered from 2008 to 2013. Kwanliso 16 is the largest political prison camp in the country and its prison population is believed to have increased slightly, according to the AI's investigation. AI renewed its calls on the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un [BBC profile] to acknowledge and immediately close its political prison camps, release all prisoners who have not been afforded due process and allow international human rights monitors access to the country. Additionally, AI urged Laos, China and other regional powers to "respect their international law obligations and not forcibly return North Koreans who have fled the country, as any such return could put them at serious risk of grave human rights violations including being sent to the kwanliso."
In February UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Marzuki Darusman [official website] and a group of independent human rights experts announced their support [JURIST report] for an international inquiry [UN News Centre report] into human rights violations in North Korea to bring awareness to the country's system of political prison camps. In January UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] condemned North Korea's human rights record [JURIST report] and urged the international community to make efforts to improve the situation. Pillay's plea came only days after Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] called on the UN [JURIST report] to examine human rights abuses, particularly in light of the drop in individuals escaping into China and reports by successful escapees of increasing crackdown on escape attempts. In 2011, Darusman criticized [JURIST report] North Korea's human rights record after speaking to North Korean refugees in South Korea, after which he became convinced that 200,000 political prisoners are being abused [AFP report] in forced labor camps.