North Korea Executions


Jin-Net Releases Video Footage of
Public Executions in North Korea

Statement by:
(Japan Independent News Net)

In the second week of March 2005, Jin-Net (Japan Independent News Net) Co., Ltd. obtained video tapes showing public executions in North Korea.

These tapes reached Japan via several North Korean defectors. The persons who videotaped the executions are reportedly North Koreans, but they have not been identified.

Jin-Net has made every effort to carefully verify all facts. Descriptions by people who actually attended the public executions independently corroborate the events in the videotapes. We further cross-referenced many additional eyewitness accounts with the video images and confirmed the credibility of the videotaped footage. Thus, JIN-NET believes that this video should be released to the world.

The videotapes show two public executions. One was carried out at around 11:00AM on March 1, and the other on March 2, 2005 in Hoeryong city, Hamgyong-bukto Province near the China border.

In each case, a large crowd, probably numbering several thousand, watched as verdicts were read aloud. The executions by firing squad were then carried out within minutes.

The first execution, on March 1, took place at the Hoeryong River bank near a market in central Hoeryong city. The chief judge of Hamgyong-bukto Province handed down decisions on 11 defendants. Most were charged with “illegal border crossing” and “human trafficking”. Two of the 11 received the death penalty, two got life sentences, and the remaining 7 were given terms ranging from 10 to 15 years at hard labor.

The second trial, on the following day, was held in an empty lot near the railway station in Yuson district of Hoeryong city.

This site is about 10 km west of central Hoeryong city. According to local residents, the two sites have been used for public executions.

On this day also, the two defendants were charged with “illegal border crossing” and “human trafficking.” One was sentenced to death, and the other received 10 years in prison.

Defectors from North Korea tell us that when open trials or public executions are scheduled, the people are mobilized by the organizations to which they belong. Sometimes, children attend, being led by teachers. Announcement bills are posted throughout the city, and loudspeaker cars drive around announcing the events.

All inhabitants are expected to attend the events, although absentees are allegedly not punished.

As shown in the video, the executions were carried out immediately after the sentences were announced. Each condemned prisoner was tied to a pole, and three riflemen each fired three shots. Several North Korean defectors commented that the procedure in these public executions was almost identical to others they had witnessed in the past.

Our coverage discovered that the number of public executions peaked in the late 1990s. At that time, huge numbers of North Koreans were starving, and it became difficult to maintain law and order.

Crimes leading to execution during the 90s involved people stealing materials from factories or killing cows and eating them to survive. According to some North Korean defectors who lived in Hoeryong city, those executions were by shooting or by hanging.

After 2000, the number of public executions fell drastically, probably in response to protest from the international community.

There seem to have been few public executions since then. News of the recent public executions in Hoeryong city spread quickly in South Korea and among ethnic Koreans living in China.

Special political factors underlie the recent public executions.

The number of escapees from North Korea into China has fallen dramatically since a large-scale operation against “anti-socialism” was begun in the border area at the end of 2004.

For this campaign, at Kim Jong-il’s orders, a special inspection mission was dispatched from Pyongyang to cover the entire border area. The purpose was to crack down on escapes from North Korea, to stop smuggling, and to halt the inflow of information from abroad. It is likely that such a crackdown is necessary to maintain the current regime.

In the video tape, the Hoeryong chief commissar summarizes the regime’s current problems.

“Today, the circumstances strongly demand our still greater efforts to thoroughly seal the border to block invasion of the ideology and culture of imperialism, and to further intensify our fight against illegal border crossings and other anti-socialism behaviors.”

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 trafficking”?

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 defendant’s family.

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

Copyright © 2005 Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, an NGO