Execution Legal for Minor Offences in North Korea

According to a set of addendums to the “DPRK Penal Code” which have leaked out of North Korea, execution is permitted for some ordinary crimes in addition to those stipulated by the full penal code itself.

For instance, in cases of currency forgery, the full penal code stipulates more than 10-years of labor reeducation, or indefinite reeducation in serious cases, but one of the addendum articles also states, “Under extreme circumstances, one can be subject to execution.”

Although these articles were adopted in 2007, they were not publicized to the outside world.

17 out of the 23 articles contained in the document, called the “DPRK Penal Code Additional Clauses (ordinary crimes),” legalize execution for “especially serious cases” of certain crimes, while the full penal code only stipulates execution for four crimes of a treasonous nature, not for ordinary crimes.

The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) adopted the addendum articles in the form of Ordinance No. 2483 on December 19th, 2007. The ordinance is in the form of a legal code authorized by the Supreme People’s Assembly’s (SPA) Presidium, the highest organ within the SPA, which holds legal authority during SPA recesses.

Article 1 stipulates, “For extreme acts pertaining to combat resources and the intentional destruction of military facilities, execution is permissible.” The existing penal code, however, only stipulates, “Under particularly heavy circumstances, a sentence of more than 10 years labor reeducation or indefinite labor reeducation is appropriate.”

Other crimes that are deemed to be grave enough to warrant execution under the addendum articles include: plundering and theft of national assets, destruction/damage to national assets, currency fraud, intentional defamation, kidnapping, rape, theft of private assets, smuggling of metals, smuggling of the nation’s natural resources, drug smuggling, and taking bribes for sex trafficking.

Importantly, Article 23 stipulates an indefinite labor reeducation sentence or execution if an individual commits a number of serious crimes, or does not show acceptable signs of guilt or reform.

In the mid-1990s, extra-judicial public executions took place of those found guilty of committing crimes such the theft of cows or food, crimes which were actually happening in all areas of North Korean society. After the enactment of Article 23, however, the form of punishment has become possible within the judicial process.

As Article 23 makes clear, the penal code does not regard specific criminal acts with hostility, but makes execution permissible “under heavy circumstances” or for “incorrigible persons” in general. If this is the case, then execution sentences can in theory apply to all offenses, which is a serious violation of established legal principles, albeit that such violations are not new in North Korean legal practice.

Professor Park Jung Won of Kookmin University explained, “These changes preserve through the law the ability to punish not only treasonous crimes but also ordinary crimes through execution and expropriation of assets. The changes are also a means by which the North Korean authorities can react to outside criticism of those executions which are not allowed within the country’s main legal processes.”

One defector who witnessed a public execution in the mid-2000s, explained the situation to the Daily NK, “In Kim Jung Suk (a county), Yangkang Province, “I saw a young woman’s public execution, at which I read the verdict, ‘Addendum 49 is applicable in this case. She was executed for theft of electrical wiring.”

The implication is that the articles were being used for a number of years, but got revised in 2007. The source agreed, saying, “As far as I know, during the March of Tribulation in the mid-1990s, the authorities wrote the addendums to cope with emergencies.”