Despite denials from North Korean officials, the United Nations accuses the hermit kingdom of imprisoning tens of thousands of people — including children — at gulag-style camps, where detainees are subjected to forced labor, torture, starvation, rape and even death.
Satellite images, recently released by Washington-based Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), show Camp No. 25, a camp near Chongjin, on North Korea's northeast coast.
The number of such prison camps seems to be expanding, according to reports.
Though Pyongyang officially denies the camps exist, according to the United Nations, up to 120,000 men, women and children are imprisoned in the gulags or "kwanliso" in Korean.
HRNK states the map underwent an expansion before 2010, when it almost doubled in scale and has continued to operate at its larger size.
"Our satellite imagery analysis of Camp No. 25 and other such unlawful detention facilities appears to confirm the sustained, if not increased importance of the use of forced labor under Kim Jong-un," HRNK executive director Greg Scarlatoiu said in a statement.
Amnesty International agrees that Pyongyang "is continuing to maintain, and even invest, in these repressive facilities."
"These camps constitute the cornerstone of the country's large infrastructure dedicated to political repression and social control that enables widespread and systematic human rights abuses," Amnesty said in a statement.
"Assessments of the satellite images of two political prison camps — known as kwanliso — collected in May and August show the addition of new guard posts, upgrading of a reported crematorium, and ongoing agricultural activities."
Human rights violations are nothing new in the hermit kingdom.
"Suspects of major political wrongs may find themselves in a detention interrogation center anywhere from a few days to six months or more," says a U.N. report.
"Torture is an established feature of the interrogation process", it said, citing testimony about a "torture chamber" at a detention facility of the State Security Department equipped with a water tank, shackles used to hang suspects upside down and long needles driven underneath a suspect's fingernails.
"Many suspects die at interrogation detention centers as a result of torture, deliberate starvation or illnesses developed or aggravated by the terrible living conditions.
"If they are not executed immediately, persons held accountable for major political wrongs are forcibly disappeared to political prison camps that officially do not exist. Most victims are incarcerated for life, without chance of leaving the camps alive," the report explains.