News / Asia

    Google Earth Helps Put N. Korea Gulag System on Map

    OneFreeKorea says this Google Earth screenshot shows the No. 12 Reeducation Camp at “Chongo-ri” or “Jeongeo-ri” in North Hamgyong Province, North Korea. (Image: Google Earth and Digital Globe, via OneFreeKorea)OneFreeKorea says this Google Earth screenshot shows the No. 12 Reeducation Camp at “Chongo-ri” or “Jeongeo-ri” in North Hamgyong Province, North Korea. (Image: Google Earth and Digital Globe, via OneFreeKorea)
    x
    OneFreeKorea says this Google Earth screenshot shows the No. 12 Reeducation Camp at “Chongo-ri” or “Jeongeo-ri” in North Hamgyong Province, North Korea. (Image: Google Earth and Digital Globe, via OneFreeKorea)
    OneFreeKorea says this Google Earth screenshot shows the No. 12 Reeducation Camp at “Chongo-ri” or “Jeongeo-ri” in North Hamgyong Province, North Korea. (Image: Google Earth and Digital Globe, via OneFreeKorea)
    Reuters
    Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt's visit to North Korea this week has been met with sharp criticism and low expectations, but the global Internet search giant indirectly is helping to make history by revealing one of the reclusive country's darkest secrets, say human rights activists.

    Google Earth, the company's popular satellite imagery product, might have been the last thing Schmidt would have wanted to showcase for his hosts, because it presents a bird's eye view of many things secretive North Korea wants to keep hidden.

    Human rights activists and bloggers have taken a Google program used mostly for recreation, education and marketing and applied it to map a vast system of dozens of prison camps that span North Korea, a country slightly smaller in area than Greece and home to 23 million people.
       
    As many as 250,000 political prisoners and their families toil on starvation rations in the mostly remote mountain camps, according to estimates by international human rights groups.
       
    Schmidt's trip to Pyongyang with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has been criticized by the U.S. State Department as ill-timed - coming weeks after North Korea conducted a rocket launch in violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

    Rights activists are skeptical that celebrity visits to Pyongyang can produce meaningful results, but they are inclined to give Google credit for living up to its informal motto of "Don't Be Evil" when it comes to how Google Earth sheds light on North Korea.

    "What Eric Schmidt does or does not do in Pyongyang will probably be forgotten in a few weeks," said Joshua Stanton, a Washington lawyer who devotes his spare time to blogging and activism on North Korea human rights.

    "The good that Google has done, however inadvertently, by helping people tell the truth about North Korea, will probably be reflected in the history of the country one day," he said.

    Google has characterized Schmidt's trip as "personal" travel, and Schmidt did not respond to requests for comment before leaving for Pyongyang. The company declined to comment on the use of Google Earth in monitoring North Korea.

    Richardson said last week he hoped to win the release of Kenneth Bae, a U.S. tour guide detained in the North since November.

    Hidden gulag no longer so hidden

    Stanton's blog, One Free North Korea, carries satellite images from Google Earth and analysis of the features of six political prisoner camps - three of which he is credited with playing a role in confirming or identifying.

    The blogger identifies images of gates and guard houses, and in some cases coal mines and crude burial grounds - corroborated through the work of experts and interviews with defectors from North Korea who lived or worked in the camps.
       
    "The largest of the camps, if you don't know what you're looking at, look like towns or villages, and I suspect they are designed that way to fit into the countryside," said Stanton, whose readers trade tips on the camps and their landmarks.
       
    Stanton, who became interested in North Korea while serving in the U.S. military in South Korea at the height of a deadly late-1990s famine in the North, built on the pioneering work of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a U.S. non-governmental organization which unveiled the camps in a 2003 book, "The Hidden Gulag."

    When a second edition of "The Hidden Gulag" came out in 2012, Google Earth received prominent acknowledgement.
       
    "The dramatically improved, higher resolution satellite imagery now available through Google Earth allows the former prisoners to identify their former barracks and houses, their former execution grounds, and other landmarks in the camps," said the study.
       
    "Hidden Gulag" also credited Stanton and a second blogger, Curtis Melvin, whose blog North Korea Economy Watch, has been at the forefront of using Google Earth to catalog not only prison camps but also ordinary facilities like schools, factories and train stations.

    "It opens up areas of North Korea that no foreigners are allowed to see at all," said Melvin, who downloads the free program available to the general public.
     
    Imagery makes denials implausible
     
    Melvin, an economist with an unfinished doctoral dissertation on North Korea's monetary system, verifies landmarks he finds on Google Earth by studying maps and documents and by sitting down in front of his computer in Virginia with North Koreans.
       
    "I've also been watching North Korean television literally every day for about three years, so I have a list of thousands of names [of places] I can ask them specific questions about," he said of his interviews with defectors from North Korea.
       
    North Korean defector Kim Sung Min, who escaped the country in 1997 by jumping off a train that was taking him to be executed, "told me the name of the train station where he jumped, and I pulled it up immediately and we were able to trace his actual escape path out of North Korea," said Melvin.
       
    Some of Google Earth's satellite imagery comes from DigitalGlobe, a 20-year-old Colorado firm that, under its previous name, EarthWatch Incorporated, was the first outfit to get a U.S. government license to gather and sell satellite imagery commercially.
       
    The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea receives imagery and analysis pro bono in a project with DigitalGlobe Inc, which has a record of supporting humanitarian causes, said Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the committee.
       
    According to satellite technicians, the imagery available directly from DigitalGlobe is of finer resolution and is updated more frequently than the versions carried for free on Google Earth.

    "Satellite imagery readily available through Google Earth has certainly enabled human rights experts to decisively confirm that these facilities do exist, despite the fact that the North Korean regime denies their existence," Scarlatoiu said.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.