N. Korea`s civil, political human rights infringement

By Kim Soo-am/Lee Kyu-chang, Senior Research Fellows, Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul

As North Korea does not allow outside surveys on its human rights situations, we have no way to get an account of its real situation except from North Korean defectors who have now settled in South Korea. To this effect, we had the occasion to have in-depth interviews with these North Korean re-settlers for a survey of the North`s dismal human rights conditions.

According to the survey, there have continued cases of public execution in North Korea for those who resist the harsh North Korean communist regime. The victims were punished for such social deviations as murder, rape and human trafficking, for illicitly circulating information from the outside world and for taking part in the drug trafficking and contraband trade. Through this survey, we realized there have been some noticeable changes in the types of crimes which are subject to public execution.

First, testimony from North Korean defectors was obtained that a North Korean resident was executed in public on charges of killing a public security officer and a guidance supervisor of the state security department. The executed Korean is known to have killed the security officers out of dissatisfaction over the North`s reinforced social control of its residents in the course of the hereditary power succession from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un. This vividly illustrates that the North Korean authorities are taking a stern response to such anti-state action by those who challenge the socialist regime.

Public execution

Second, the North Korean authorities executed in public those who failed to send electricity to the capital Pyongyang and those who squandered the state properties. The Pyongyang regime appeared to have given heavy punishment to such acts, which are regarded by the regime as anti-state crimes hindering the North`s self-proclaimed goal of constructing a ``Kangsong Taeguk``, or strong, prosperous and powerful country.

Third, there are cases of public execution for those who engaged in livestock trafficking of such animals as cows and goats. In a more bizarre case, a man was charged with eating human flesh. Executions for these types of cases reemerged since Pyongyang`s botched currency reform in 2009, which caused massive inflation and worsened food shortages. These cases vividly explain how difficult the North Korean economy is and how severe the food shortages are.

However, the number of public execution cases appears to have decreased, the survey suggests. Of the 230 North Korean defectors interviewed in 2011, only two testified they either witnessed a horrible scene of public execution or heard of the open punishment. We can analyze the reasons for the reduction in public executions as follows.

First, the North Korean authorities appear to have conducted secret executions rather than public executions in consciousness of international criticism. Or else the North Korean authorities seem to have imposed more sentences of life imprisonment and labor at concentration camps. In this sense, it is very important for South Korea to continue cooperation with the international community, including the United Nations, by raising the North Korean human rights issue on the basis of its universality.

Second, the North has not gained any effects from the executions, contrary to their purported intention. The North`s real intention is to maintain its dictatorial regime through imbuing a sense of horror in North Korean residents.

Third, another reason for the reduction of public executions seems to be related to overall corruption in North Korean society. According to the testimonies of the defectors, there are widespread cases of bribery in the social state. North Koreans who are sentenced to be executed for grave criminal charges evade the execution through bribes and later their charges are reduced or converted to a simple and light punishment.

We cannot definitely say the cases of execution last year decreased evidently, as the North Korean interviewees surveyed are geographically disproportionate. Therefore, we cannot rule out the possibility that more North Korean defectors coming to South Korea may yet say they witnessed or heard of public executions in 2011.

Judicial procedures

It is worth noting therefore if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who became the absolute head of the dynastic regime after his father Kim jong-il`s death last December, will increase public executions to continue horror politics to strengthen his dynastic rule, conduct secret executions, or shift to applying more sentences of hard labor, in cognition of international criticism.

In documents that have been made public, we have found North Korea`s judicial procedures regarding public executions. According to these documents, the North`s court gives the death sentence to criminals as provided by the Criminal Code and related criminal clauses. The condemned criminals are then executed in due course.

In a more detailed case, the Pyongyang City Court gave a death sentence to a man named Ri Song-chol on charges of intentional damage of state properties, as provided by the Criminal Code. In September 2010, the North`s Supreme Court asked the Pyongyang City Court to approve and implement Ri`s execution accordingly.

In another case, the Court of North Phyongan Province gave the death sentence to Kim Chun-nam under the Criminal Code`s appendix article 4. The Supreme Court asked the Pyongyang City Court to approve and implement Ri`s execution accordingly.

In another case, the Court of North Phyongan Province gave the death sentence to Kim Chun-nam under the Criminal Code`s appendix article 4. The Supreme Court asked the Phyongan court to implement Kim`s execution.

These documents show the first case of the North keeping the rules of the Criminal Code in conducting its public executions. It is, however, questionable that all public executions are being conducted as provided by the criminal law and procedures as revealed by the above documents.

Forced labor, torture and beatings are commonplace at various North Korean correctional facilities, such as detention houses, prisons and concentration camps. In most cases, guidance members of the prisons conduct cruel acts on those imprisoned, and unit supervisors of the cells or other prison inmates also exercise relentless violence under the direction of the guidance officers.

Nutrition and medical conditions for detainees are very poor at confinement institutes. If a prison inmate`s health is proved to be severe, he or she is exempt from forced labor, but without the benefits of obtaining medical treatment. Forced labor and violent acts frequently lead to injuries and diseases for the prisoners, and some die from malnutrition and fatal diseases.

According to interviews with the North Korean defectors, such infringements of corporal freedom and safety rights occurred most frequently at Chongjin concentration camp in North Hamgyong Province. Of the educational camps, Jongo-ri educational center topped the list of defectors testimony for violation of its inmates` corporal freedom. Of the detention facilities, the Onsung county camp, operated by the state security department, is the most notorious for its human rights infringement.

Many cases of human rights infringement at labor camps across the country were testified by the North Korean defectors. There are more cases of testimony on human rights violations in Yanggang and Jagang provinces than in Phyongan and Hwanghae provinces.

Rights of corporal reedom

In North Korea, some 150,000 to 200,000 political prisoners and their families are confined in various detention camps. They lead a dismal life beneath that considered human at six political camps. An increasing number of people are sent to these concentration camps on espionage charges, such as aborted attempts to defect to South Korea and unauthorized contact with South Koreans.

Moreover, there are constant cases of confining the family members of those who fled the communist regime. A steady number of people are also being sent to the concentration camps on charges of engaging in religious activities, such as attending prayer meetings.

Some North Koreans, in addition to the political prisoners, are being put into jail for social crimes such as human trafficking, among others.

Economic offenders whose charges are severe are often imprisoned in political camps, too. A North Korean defector testified he witnessed that a head of condensed milk supply center and his secretary stole milk from the storage facility and sold it illegally. The two men and their families were later imprisoned at political camps around February 2010. The condensed milk storage facility is a secret warehouse reserved for emergencies under the orders of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, and located in Chonnae County, Kangwon Province.

Additional information on the dismal situation of the political camps came to light through the testimonies and publications of North Korean defectors. When a North Korean prisoner is confined in a camp, he or she is deprived of their resident certificate card, thereby being deprived of the rights of suffrage and eligibility for election. They are also banned from normal rations of food and medical benefits. Marriage and childbirth are also prohibited.

At one time previously, such prisoners were able to join the North`s ruling Workers` Party. Marriage and childbirth were allowed, too. A defector named Kim Hye-suk who is now settled in South Korea was previously detained at a horrible concentration camp for political prisoners for 27 years. She became an exemplary member of the socialist workers` youth league and was admitted to the Worker`s Party in October 1984. She was later married to a mining blaster and gave birth to a baby.

Although parents and children are confined in the same camps, they must carry out their own portion of obligations under the camp rules. It is said that if a married couple is in the same camp, they are forced to work separately, one at night and one during the day, so they cannot have sex. A waterway, located at No. 22 control office, was used for the purpose of drowning inmates to kill them while saving bullets.

Political prisoners

Despite the formal inauguration of the Kim Jong-un system, it appears difficult to expect any improvement of the civil and political rights of North Korean residents. There merely seems a higher possibility for the increase of conflict between the market activities of ordinary residents and the control of the North Korean authorities.

This will ultimately affect the human rights of North Koreans as follows. First, the human rights situation will likely worsen further in the course of the reinforced control of the North Korean authorities. Second, despite the tightened control, North Korean residents` awareness of the outside world as well as their own human rights will further expand with the continued inflow of outside information through video, TV and other publications.