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

    Vietnam Mulls Tough Measures for ‘Misbehaving’ Chinese Tourists

    Move comes after footage surfaced online of Chinese travelers harassing a banana hawker in Da Nang

    Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

    Qandeel Baloch's murder puts spotlight on deadly tradition and other mistreatment of women

    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.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora