At least two North Korean concentration camps, Hoeryong and Hwasong in Hamkyong Province, are larger in area than the District of Columbia. All the gulags are located in remote and desolate mountain areas to further their anonymity. Presently, there are six gulags known to the outside world where it is speculated that some 150,000 to 200,000 inmates are imprisoned.
The most striking feature of the gulag system is the philosophy of "guilt by familial association" or "collective responsibility" whereby whole families within three generations are imprisoned. This policy has been practiced since 1972 when Kim Il Sung, the founder of communist North Korea, stated, "Factionalists or enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations."
Another characteristic of this oppressive policy is that those arrested are not detained, charged or tried in any sort of judicial procedure. The victim, along with his immediate family, is shipped off in the early hours of the morning to an interrogation facility. He is only permitted to bring the clothes on his back. The presumed offender is then tortured in order to make him "confess" before being sent to the political penal-labor colony.
On arrival at the camp, the victim is issued a pick and shovel, simple cooking utensils and a used army blanket. All contact with the outside world is blocked: he is now a non-person.
Prisoners are provided just enough food to be kept perpetually on the verge of starvation. They are compelled by their hunger to eat, if they can get away with it, the food of the labor-camp farm animals, as well as plants, grasses, bark, rats, snakes and anything remotely edible. In committing such desperate acts driven by acute hunger the prisoners simultaneously incur the extreme risk of being detected by an angry security guard and subjected to a brutal, on-the-spot execution.
Not surprisingly, the prisoners are quickly reduced to walking skeletons. The descriptions parallel those provided by survivors of the Holocaust in infamous camps like Auschwitz.