Concentration camp

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An American concentration camp holding Japanese-Americans during World War II.

A concentration camp is a generally brutal type of camp that has inmates that are generally persecuted. Most are either because of race, ethnicity, or sexuality. Just as many will be put in a concentration camp due to not following a government rule or being a prisoner of war (POW). Sometimes they are also known as labor camps, internment camps, or prison camps.

Use of concentration camps is considered to be a violation of international law and a crime against humanity.

Historical uses of concentration camps

  • The most infamous example of historical concentration camps are those that the Nazi Party established during World War II as part of the Holocaust. Jews and other Nazi "undesirables" were interred at these camps and often died from starvation or overwork, if they weren't killed outright or tortured. The Nazi camps were overseen by Heinrich Himmler and staffed by the Schutzstaffel, and were also notorious for executing people using gas chambers disguised as shower stalls.
  • North Korea operates a number of concentration camps, mainly for political enemies. Political prisoners are also subjected to the family responsibility principle, which means that the immediate family members of a convicted political criminal are also regarded as political criminals and interned. The living conditions in the North Korean camps are notoriously brutal; prisoners are forced to work extremely hard labor with very little food given to them, so many prisoners die from either being worked too hard or starvation. Torture is also used frequently on prisoners who don't work hard enough. The most notorious and brutal of these camps was Camp 22 (which is now closed down), where among the most egregious human rights violations in all of North Korea were allegedly committed.
  • Augusto Pinochet operated concentration camps during his tenure as the military dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1990. There were at least eighty in all, and most of them were converted soccer stadiums, hotels, or office buildings. Those that were primarily targeted included Communists, Leftists, homosexuals, indigenous peoples, and Catholics. The camps were run by DINA, Pinochet's secret police who were renowned for their cruelty; torture and sexual violence was very prevalent and included things such as electrocution, correctional rape, forced bestiality, forced cannibalism, and being burned alive via flamethrower, among other things. Previously, a concentration camp had already been created in Pisagua during the government of Gabriel González Videla.
  • Concentration camps were used by the Khmer Rouge regime during their rule of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, with 196 in all being known. As a part of Pol Pot's campaign of genocide against Cambodia's ethnic minorities, whole cities were evacuated and sent to these camps. Those who weren't killed outright or died from starvation were forced to do hard manual labor, usually until they died from overwork. The most well-known of these camps was Tuol Sleng, a converted secondary school that was known for its brutal methods of torture, which included electrocution, various forms of mutilation, and waterboarding, among other things. The chief overseer of Tuol Sleng was Kang Kek Iew, the head of the Khmer Rouge's internal security (the Santebal), who was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2010 by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and sentenced to life in prison.
  • Mao Zedong made use of labor camps during both the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution as part of the Laogai ("reform through labor") system, which was intended to "reform offenders into law-abiding citizens".
  • Modern-day Chechnya has reportedly established a number of concentration camps specifically targeting homosexual or bisexual men; they are allegedly being used for the extrajudicial detention and torture of men who are suspected of being gay or bisexual, and are reportedly overseen directly by President Ramzan Kadyrov.
  • The United States interred Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during the latter half of World War II, as per an executive order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to Imperial Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor. Of 127,000 Japanese Americans living in the continental United States at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, 112,000 resided on the West Coast. Roosevelt's executive order declared that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the West Coast, including all of California and parts of Oregon, Washington, and Arizona, except for those in government camps. Approximately 5,000 Japanese Americans relocated outside the exclusion zone before March 1942, while some 5,500 community leaders had been arrested immediately after the Pearl Harbour attack and thus were already in custody. The majority of nearly 130,000 Japanese Americans living in the U.S. mainland were forcibly relocated from their West Coast homes during the spring of 1942. This is considered to be an act of ethnic cleansing. They also operated concentration camps in the Philippines during William McKinley's tenure as president.
  • During the Bosnian War, concentration camps were used by all of the respective belligerents. Croatian and Bosniak forces were the first to set up concentration camps. Serbs who suffered great casualties by locals, Croats and Muslims (concentration camps and massacres) during the previous wars (WWI and WWII) reacted furiously, especially in the places that were on the side of the Nazis of the World War II (Prijedor, Podrinje.) In a UN report, 381 out of 677 alleged camps have been corroborated and verified, involving all warring factions. War crimes and human rights violations were rampant at almost all of the camps.
  • Concentration camps were established by Fidel Castro's government during the first few years of his tenure as the leader of Cuba. They were known as Military Units to Aid Production, or UMAPs. The UMAP camps served as a form of alternative civilian service for Cubans who could not serve in the military due to being, conscientious objectors, Christians and other religious people, homosexuals, or political enemies of Castro or his communist revolution.
  • During his rule in Yugoslavia, Tito sent his political opponents to Goli Otok, an island in Adriatic Sea which served as a big concentration camp.
  • Since 2017, the Communist Party of China has been imprisoning Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province in what they describe as "re-education camps". These camps are reportedly operated outside of the legal system; many Uyghurs have been interned without trial and no charges have been levied against them. Local authorities are reportedly holding hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and Muslims from other ethnic minorities in these camps, for the stated purpose of countering extremism and terrorism.
  • During the rule of the National Reorganization Process military junta in Argentina during the Cold War, there were over 300 places throughout the country that served as secret detention centers, where people were interrogated, tortured, and killed. Prisoners were often forced to hand and sign over property, in acts of individual, rather than official and systematic, corruption. Small children who were taken with their relatives, and babies born to female prisoners later killed, were frequently given for adoption to politically acceptable, often military, families. There was a total of 340 secret detention centers all over the country's territory.
  • Lothar von Trotha interred the Herero and Nama peoples in concentration camps during the German Empire's colonial rule of South West Africa from 1904 to 1908.
  • Fascist Italy, under Benito Mussolini's rule, operated concentration camps during and after the Pacification of Libya. The forced migration of more than 100,000 people ended in concentration camps in Suluq- ALa byer and Al Agheila where tens of thousands died in squalid conditions. It is estimated (by Arab historians) that the number of Libyans who died – killed either through combat or mainly through starvation, execution and disease – is at a minimum of 80,000 or even up to one third of the Cyrenaican population.
  • In Francoist Spain between 1936 and 1947, concentration camps were created and coordinated by the Servicio de Colonias Penitenciarias Militarizadas. Inmates of these concentration camps were republican ex-combatants of the Spanish Republican Army, Spanish Republican Air Force or the Spanish Republican Navy, as well as political dissidents, homosexuals, and regular convicts.
  • Concentration camps were operated by the Young Turks during the Armenian Genocide to eliminate Armenians who survived death marches through deserts.
  • In South Vietnam, the government of Ngô Đình Diệm countered North Vietnamese subversion (including the assassination of over 450 South Vietnamese officials in 1956) by detaining tens of thousands of suspected communists in "political re-education centers." This was a ruthless program that incarcerated many non-communists, although it was also successful at curtailing communist activity in the country, if only for a time. The North Vietnamese government claimed that over 65,000 individuals were incarcerated and 2,148 killed in the process by November 1957, although these figures may be exaggerated.
  • North Vietnam operated concentration camps as well. During the early years of the Communist Party of Vietnam's rule, Hồ Chí Minh launched a campaign of land reform beginning in 1953. Hundreds of thousands of citizens were accused of being landlords and were summarily executed or tortured and starved in concentration camps. More than 172,000 people died during the North Vietnam campaign after being classified as landowners and wealthy farmers, official records of the time show. 
  • During the Second Anglo-Boer War, the British Empire used concentration camps where Boer women and children were imprisoned as prisoners of war, being in unsanitary conditions and with few food rations, where many people ended up dying of malnutrition.
  • Imperial Japan operated concentration camps in their various conquered territories during World War II, mainly for prisoners of war.
  • The infamous Gulags used by the Soviet Union are considered to be a type of concentration camp. The Gulag system was first set up by Vladimir Lenin and reached its peak during Joseph Stalin's rule from the 1930s to the early 1950s. The Gulag camps were administered at first by the Cheka, and later the NKVD. As a result, a lot of people were forced to suffer in cold weather.
  • Concentration camps were operated by the government of Guatemala during the civil war from 1960 to 1996. They were used most often during the military regimes of Efraín Ríos Montt (1982 - 1983) and Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores (1983 - 1986).
  • Concentration camps were widely used during the Brazilian military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.
  • During World War I, internment camps were set up, mostly for Serbs and other pro-Kingdom of Serbia supporters; the radical pan-Serbian Black Hand having played a role in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand resulting in the outbreak of World War I. Citizens deemed enemies of the state were displaced from their homes and sent to camps throughout the Austria-Hungary Empire, to places such as Doboj (46,000), Arad, Győr and Neusiedl am See.
  • The State Peace and Development Council made use of concentration camps during its rule of Burma from 1988 to 2011, particularly during Than Shwe's leadership.
  • During the Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay, different concentration camps were created throughout the country, mainly in the Chaco region, where torture, beatings, and inhumane conditions were very common. Some of these tortures were supervised by Pastor Milciades Coronel.
  • In Mexico, the Los Zetas cartel used a concentration camp to undo its victims, where it is presumed that it killed 200 people.
  • The ZANU-PF party operated concentration camps for Ndebele people during the Gukurahundi.
  • During the government of Ahmed Sékou Touré in Guinea, Camp Boiro was created in the city of Conakry, a concentration camp in which it is estimated that more than 5,000 people died.
  • The "New villages" were internment camps created by the British authorities during the Malayan Emergency, and were used to relocate the rural and indigenous population so that they did not make contact with the Communist Party of Malaya. An estimated 470,509 people were forcibly relocated to these camps, living in deplorable conditions.
  • The French used concentration camps in Algeria, both in the period of colonization and during the war of independence.
  • The Enver Hoxha regime in Albania made use of forced labor camps. At one point, every third Albanian had either been interrogated by the Sigurimi or incarcerated in labour camps. To eliminate dissent, the government imprisoned thousands in these camps or executed them for crimes such as alleged treachery or for disrupting the proletarian dictatorship.
  • Concentration camps were used during the Trail of Tears, which began after President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act to relocate the Five Civilized Tribes of Native Americans to the Indian Territories. They were mostly used as a last resort and temporary placement for Natives until new land could be found for them to settle on.
  • During the Mau Mau Uprising, British authorities in Kenya took many Kenyan civilians to concentration camps, where many were tortured or sexually abused.
  • The Ustaše used concentration camps throughout Croatia to exterminate Serbs, Jews and Gypsies. Something that made the Ustaše particularly infamous was the creation of concentration camps exclusively for children. The most well-known Ustaše camp was Jasenovac concentration camp.
  • The Moore River Native Settlement was an internment camp in Australia established by A.O. Neville to assimilate the Stolen Generations into white culture.
  • Gamal Abdel Nasser made use of concentration camps during his tenure as President of Egypt, mostly imprisoning Muslim Brotherhood members.

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