North Korea

The Death Penalty in North Korea

No country in the world shields itself more from the outside world than North Korea, which is why there are usually only eyewitness reports of executions. The government itself does not officially confirm executions or announce them in advance.

The death penalty exists for numerous crimes and offenses, including treason, endangering national security and disobedience. Critics of the system are systematically persecuted and tortured.

According to information from the Federal Agency for Civic Education (BpB), former inmates of prisons and penal camps have reported the widespread use of numerous methods of torture, as well as the fact that the death penalty is the order of the day.

Political prisoners and execution methods

Political prisoners make up a large percentage of inmates and are deported to special internment camps. Forced labor and the denial of adequate food as well as any medical care regularly lead to mass deaths-even without “active” executions(BpB). Here, too, the government still denies the existence of special prison camps, which are compared to the “gulag” (fidh).

Executions accordingly also serve to secure power: Kim Jong Un, for example, allegedly regularly executes state officials such as ministers or functionaries under his dictatorial leadership. In this context, he also had his uncle executed for allegedly holding high stock, as well as the former defense minister Pyon In-son and, in February of this year, the military chief in office.

The usual method of execution in North Korea is hanging or firing squad. Numerous executions take place in public. In November 2013, 10,000 people, including children, were reportedly forced to attend a mass execution.

A North Korean refugee documented the executions through his own recordings, which were published by the International Federation for Human Rights (IFGM) . In July 2017, the South Korean nongovernmental organization Transitional Justice Working Group published another detailed report on the multitude of human rights violations, based on witness accounts through interviews with 375 North Korean defectors.

Sources and further information:

Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG),“MAPPING THE FATE OF THE DEAD PROGRESS REPORT JUNE 2019.”

International Federation for Human Rights (fidh) :“The Death Penalty in North Korea: In the machinery of a totalitarian State,” 2012 report.“Kim has military chief executed,” F.A.Z., February 10, 2016;“Public Mass Executions in North Korea,” International Society for Human Rights;“Mapping Crimes against Humanity in North Korea: Mass Graves, Killing Sites and Documentary Evidence,” Transitional Justice Working Groups (TJWG) report, released July 2017.

For an authentic account of a young woman’s escape from the hands of the Kim regime, who witnessed her first public executions at the age of seven, see the book Black Magnolia: How I Escaped North Korea, Lee, Hyeonseo/ John, David, Heyne 2015.

As of June 2020