Hoeryong lies in the border area and is located
on a major escape route into China. Thus, it is highly likely that
the recent public executions were intended as object lessons and as
a political measure to firmly seal the border.
The verdicts handed down on the defendants during
the two days on the video tape are based on four articles of the criminal
law, which was revised in April 2004: Article 290-2 deals with the
crime of abduction; Article 233, illegal border crossing; Article
216, cultivation of illegal opium and manufacture of narcotics; and
Article 104, foreign currency trade.
Of the four articles mentioned above, however, none
specifies a death penalty.
The severest punishments are implemented under Article
290-2, which stipulates a minimum of 10 years at hard labor for defendants
guilty of abduction or who are accessories to abduction. Under this
article, defendants may receive a sentence of up to life at hard labor,
depending on the circumstances.
The article related to abduction is probably applied
in cases of “human trafficking.” But what exactly is “human
According to information supplied by North Korean
defectors, “human trafficking” is not what people in other
countries usually think of – that is, forcing somebody to be
sold. Instead, this term is used when arresting and trying persons
who arrange for people to cross the border into China. About 70% of
the North Koreans who leave their country are reportedly women.
In the Northeastern area of China, there is high
demand for brides or housekeepers, or in some cases, prostitutes.
These North Korean women are left with no choice except to flee their
country for their own survival and for the survival of their families.
Even as they escape, they know the kind of fate that awaits them.
In North Korea, there is an established “business” of
recruiting such women and making arrangements for them to cross the
border into China. When caught, the people in this business are allegedly
charged with “human trafficking.”
There is no question that this “human trafficking”
should not exist. But it is knowingly chosen by desperate North Korean
women as their last hope for survival. However, what is the real reason
people are still risking everything to escape from North Korea? Would
public executions of people in this business stop the escapes?
The only way for the North Korean regime to escape
its current crisis is to shift toward a policy of reform and liberation.
The Kim Jong-il regime, however, is attempting to solve its problems
by intensifying the border blockade. This indicates movement in the
opposite direction, away from reform and liberation.
The resolution on North Korean human rights passed
by the UN Human Rights Commission on April 15, 2004 refers to continuing
reports of serious ongoing, systematic, and extensive human rights
violations in North Korea, typically represented by public executions
and death sentences for political reasons.
It is obvious from the reports of North Korean defectors
that there is no such thing as principles of legality or procedures
for fair trials in North Korea. The severity of criminal punishment
is determined by bribery and the social or hierarchical rank of the
The recent public executions – precisely such
politically motivated death penalties – are indefensible from
a humanitarian standpoint. It is important to recognize that underlying
these public executions is a total absence of the basic rules of democracy.
There is also another important aspect that we must
not forget. While the public executions under the criminal code are
carried out by the people’s security department (general police),
many others take place that are never reported. A large number of
people are captured as political prisoners by the State Security Dept
(the secret police), and killed at gulags or the like. No one outside
even knows when these occur. In other words, these public executions
are just a glimpse into the human rights violations in North Korea.
On Monday next week, the UN Human Rights Commission
will convene its annual meeting to discuss the North Korea human rights
issue. At this meeting, Vitit Muntarbhorn, the first appointed UN
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea
will submit his report on the current human rights situation in that
country. Additional accusations are certain to be leveled against
North Korea since the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea
has also been attracting intense interest in the international community.
In addition, the North Korea Human Rights Law, unanimously
passed by both houses of the US Congress in October last year, emphasizes
the rescue of North Korean defectors. How will the US government react
to videos of the recent public executions, which North Korea appears
to be using as a lesson to escapees?
While the international community has raised an
outcry against the human rights abuses in North Korea, the actual
situation there, with its continued lockdown of information, has previously
been known only through the stories brought out by North Korean escapees.
The first video footage showing actual public executions, as typical
human rights violations, is expected to seize attention worldwide.
March 17, 2005