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N.K. issues death penalty for petty crimes

By 송상호

Published : July 1, 2015 - 17:19

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North Korea has meted out death penalties for a wide range of what it calls criminal acts, including watching and distributing films from the South, a South Korean government report said Wednesday, underscoring the ongoing human rights abuses in the reclusive state.

In the annual Whitepaper on Human Rights in North Korea, the state-run Korean Institute for National Unification noted that in the North’s confinement facilities, or “correctional institutions,” torture, assault and other types of inhumane practices are part of inmates’ “day-to-day” lives.

The whitepaper, which the KINU has published since 1996, is expected to draw another angry response from Pyongyang, which has accused critics on its human rights situation from the South, the U.S. and other countries of politicizing the issue and meddling in domestic affairs.

It was published about a week after the U.N. established its field office in Seoul to monitor the North’s human rights violations and is based on in-depth interviews with 221 North Korean defectors who came to Korean last year.

“In its report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council in January 2014, the North claimed that capital punishments are given in extremely limited cases. But death penalties have still been given for a wide range of crimes,” the whitepaper said.

“Especially in several recent years, death penalties have been given for watching and distributing (South) Korean films and trading or smuggling drugs.”

Some defectors, who were interviewed for the whitepaper, said that those who were caught receiving money from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, carrying bibles or helping North Koreans defect to the South were also executed for “antistate activities and treason.”

According to a survey of North Korean defectors that was conducted between 2008 and 2014, the total number of North Koreans reported by the defectors to have been publicly executed was 1,382, the whitepaper said.

The annual report also pointed out that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s directives or instructions appear to be “supralegal” as at some public court hearings, death-row inmates are set free under Kim’s “generosity.”

“In some cases, death sentences were canceled, according to witness accounts. It appears that Kim Jong-un intends to highlight his image as a leader caring for his people, and this shows that his directives go beyond the law,” the whitepaper said.

The paper also underscored that no improvement has been made regarding North Korean’s rights to food and health, due to Pyongyang’s discriminatory way of distributing food that has limited ordinary citizens’ access to food. The continuing economic debilitation and military-first policy has also led to the uneven distribution of resources, the paper said.

In recent years, the international community has been increasing pressure on the North to improve its woeful human rights record. Last year, the report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry said that human rights abuses in the North amount to “crimes against humanity.”

The KINU plans to publish an English version of the whitepaper in late August.

By Song Sang-ho(sshluck@heraldcorp.com)