North Korea may have become more conscious of international criticism of its use of public executions, according to new research.
Lee Kyu Chang, a research fellow with the Korea Institute for National Unification, told the 2nd KINU ‘Chaillot Human Rights Forum 2012’ today, “In 2011 interviews with 230 North Korean defectors, just two testified that they witnessed or heard about a public execution in 2011.”
Therefore, he went on, “It seems that the number of public executions has decreased significantly,” adding, “When the authorities are to conduct a public execution, local people are mobilized but a lot do not attend.”
According to Lee, North Korea’s use of public executions actually increased following revisions to the criminal code in April 2009 so as to stabilize the succession process, but began to shrink substantially last year.
Hypothesizing about the reasons behind the changing situation, Lee continued, “The North Korean authorities are conscious of the international community’s criticism so are using other methods; they have either switched to secret executions or are imposing indefinite correctional labor sentences instead.”
Lee cited as other plausible reasons for the changing situation: ▲ that the North Korean authorities recognize that public execution is no longer effective in terms controlling the people; ▲ that ‘bribe culture’ makes it possible to avoid execution; and/or ▲ that the North Korean people are indifferent towards public executions.
In addition, Lee added that when public executions are conducted in North Korea, it is now done in accordance with domestic law rather than on a purely arbitrary basis. He pointed to obtained sentencing documentation outlining the basis for one decision as evidence, noting, “It is the first case where North Korea demonstrated that its public executions were in compliance with criminal provisions.”
According to the document, Pyongyang City Court applied article 4 of subsidiary provisions to the penal code covering ‘deliberate damage to state assets’ in deciding upon execution, then requested the approval of North Pyongan Provincial Court, which was duly given.
However, Lee conceded, “It is questionable whether all public executions are done according to legal procedures.”