June 16, 2019
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Hundreds of North Korean public execution sites identified, says NGO report

Seoul, Jun 11 (efe-epa).- A South Korean NGO said Tuesday it had identified hundreds of public execution and state-sanctioned killings sites in North Korea after four years of research and 610 interviews with defectors.

The Transitional Justice Working Group found 323 reports of state-sanctioned killings sites – all of which the NGO said it has geographical coordinates for.

The findings were released in a report titled “Mapping the Fate of the Dead: Killings and Burials in North Korea,” which also documented 318 reports of public execution sites.

Said in the report to have taken place in every decade since the 1960s, the public executions occurred in places such as river beds and river banks, open spaces and fields, marketplaces, mountains, sports grounds and local schools for crimes ranging from murder, human trafficking, stealing cows and watching South Korean media.

“Almost all of the state-sanctioned killings reported were public executions by firing squad," the report said.

"Brief ‘trials’ almost always occur on the spot immediately before a public execution, where charges are stated and a sentence given without legal counsel for the accused," it added.

Some executions were witnessed by over 1,000 people, including children, and the families of those sentenced were sometimes forced to watch, the NGO said.

Interviewees described instances where those responsible for carrying out executions covered their faces, presumably to hide their identity, or appeared to be drunk, with one participant saying “this is because killing is a hard thing to do emotionally.”

One research participant described a public execution in the 1960s as being like a “festival” with people handing out food and music playing, features which the report says are no longer present.

“Rather, the atmosphere (in more recent years) reflects the fact that these events are a core method of inciting fear and deterring citizens from engaging in activities deemed undesirable by the regime,” it said.

One interviewee described seeing about 80 labor camp inmates – who had been caught trying to cross to China or who had been repatriated from the country – forced to watch the killing of three women accused of brokering escapes from North Korea.

“A Ministry of People’s Security officer said to the 80 onlookers, ‘This could happen to you,’” the report quoted the witness as saying.

Some research participants also reported the presence of plain-clothes security officers in the crowd, and their mobile phones being taken from them upon entry, presumably to prevent the executions being recorded and distributed.

“It was widely agreed by many former residents of North Korea that bodies of individuals killed by state agents are not typically returned to the family and are often disposed of by the authorities in mountainous areas, by being buried in the ground without markers, or thrown into a gorge or ravine,” the report said.

Escapees interviewed told the TJWG that investigating killings and body disposals may “help to prosecute the North Korean regime” in the future and that the dead “should be returned to their families as the dead are human beings.”

“The inability to access information on the whereabouts of a family member killed by the state, and the impossibility of giving them a proper burial violates both cultural norms and the ‘right to know,’” the report’s lead author Dr Sarah Son said.


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