The South Korean government believes that there are now a total of six political prison camps in North Korea, holding roughly 154,000 people, according to a South Korean government source.
The source said, "In the past there were up to ten political prison camps, but it seems that due to frequent questioning of the issue and demands for research into actual conditions by international human rights organizations, from the end of 1980s through the beginning of the 1990s North Korea shut down some of camps in the border area."
The source put forward Kaecheon (No.14 Gwanliso) and Bukchang (No.18 Gwanliso) in South Pyongan Province, Yoduk (No.15 Gwanliso) in South Hamkyung Province, Hwasung (No.16 Gwanliso), Chongjin (No.25 Gwanliso) and Hoiryeong (No.22 Gwanliso) in North Hamkyung Province as North Korea's six remaining political prison camps.
Prior to this, in January, 2010, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea also estimated that North Korea had six operational political prisoner camps, but holding around 200,000 prisoners.
Meanwhile, North Korea has consistently denied the very existence of the camps.
Nevertheless, as is now well known, North Korea does have political prisoner camps, and they are separated into “completely controlled zones,” where prisoners are imprisoned for life with no hope of release, and “revolutionary zones,” where there is a slight possibility of release. However, both the conditions and the presence of extreme human rights violations are said to be similar in both types of camp.
On the positive side, the degree of international community interest in the camps is particularly high this coming year.
Amnesty International is scheduled to focus on investigating North Korea's political prisoners this year. Currently, they are researching the types of camp and prisoners which are out there. They are also planning to present a report analyzing problems with all types of detention facilities in North Korea, including political prison camps, reeducation camps and labor-training camps.
The lower legislatures in the United States and Canada are also scheduled to host hearings on North Korean human rights issues in February and March, inviting North Korean defectors with experience of the political prison camps to testify.
The United Kingdom and European Union are also looking into hosting hearings to reveal once again the real conditions inside North Korea, including the presence of political prison camps, during the second half of the year.
Finally, international human rights organizations U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and the UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) are both also planning to host international conferences on North Korea's political prison camps in the first half of this year.