Because of the nature of the totalitarian regime in North Korea, the only information about conditions inside the nuclear power's labour camps come from the rare defectors who manage to escape.
Pang Young Sil, was dispatched to North Korea's Camp Number 15, known as Yodok, the only woman among the seven North Korean refugees apprehended. Ms.Pang "shrivelled to the size of a dog" [according to a witness report] by the time she arrived in Yodok in July 2000 after months of torture by North Korea's notorious National Security Agency and died in the camp two months later.
Ms Pang fled North Korea because her parents would not allow her to marry her boyfriend Heo Young Il, according to another Yodok survivor, Kim Gwang Soo, 44, who spent three years in the camp located 70 miles north-east of Pyongyang. Mr Heo had been dishonourably discharged from the military and could not join the ruling Workers Party.
"Pang arrived in Yodok on a stretcher. The day she died, we buried her together. Heo cried a lot. He blamed himself for her death," said Kim Gwang Soo. "After his woman died, he got strange and tried to escape," Mr Kim went on. "I had to report him to the guards for my own safety, since I was in charge of looking over him and his escape would mean trouble for me.
"For a month, they locked him in a cell so small he had to stand or sit upright 24 hours a day, eating little food. Usually that meant death, but he came out alive."
"It's a terrible human tragedy," said Evans Revere, president of the New York-based Korea Society, referring to the camps where generations of the same family can be punished for a single crime.
[Excerpt of an article by Anne Penketh, The Independent]