A South Korean human rights group released a report on Thursday stating that North Korea is using forced labor from its prison camps to mine coal and other minerals to boost exports and earn foreign currency. The group alleged that North Korea is using the money generated from the scheme to support its nuclear weapons programs.
The report, published by the Seoul-based Citizens’ Alliance for North Korea Human Rights (NKHR), analyzed “a large financial pyramid fraud” relying on “mafia-type organizations” to force individuals held in prison camps to mine large quantities of coal, lead, zinc, magnesite, and other materials. North Korea’s leader and government entities are dependent on this exploitative economic structure to bring in money to the isolated country, the report said. The report further found that the fraudulent system is “directly linked to the production and proliferation of weapons, including weapons of mass destruction.”
Among the report’s primary evidence are satellite images showing the expansion of various prison camps near mines that correlates with increased global sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear weapons programs. Its findings also relied on testimony from former political prisoners, officials, and employers of military-mining complexes who have knowledge about the dealings. The report stated that the country exports coal produced by citizens in prisons to “a shady network of foreign trading partners” including China, Myanmar and Russia.
The US State Department has examined North Korea’s prison and detention conditions, saying they “were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The Department estimates there is between 80,000 and 120,000 individuals held in the prison and detention system.
Deputy director general of the NKHR, Joanna Hosaniak, stated that the investigation was intended to expose the role of the “state-sponsored system of slavery” in North Korea’s economy and weapons programs.