The North Korean Workers’ Party Organization and Guidance Department (OGD) reportedly released information about the newly established justice department around the country. The authorities established the justice department during the Eighth Party Congress. 

The government evidently created the new department in order to strengthen the party’s authority over law enforcement agencies. By releasing new information about the new department’s functions, the party appears to be attempting to prevent any potential adverse effects that could be caused by the justice department’s inauguration.

“The OGD released materials for cadres to study on Mar. 20,” a source in North Korea told Daily NK on Apr. 6. “The materials contained information about Party agencies, businesses, and group inspections affiliated with the justice department. [The OGD] released the materials to the whole country, and then they were distributed and studied during morning, evening, and Saturday study sessions.”

The materials contained information like the fact that “the Ministry of Social Security, the Ministry of State Security, and the prosecutor’s office will be able to conduct investigations without a stamp of approval from the justice department. However, [justice department authorization] will be needed to close cases, conduct criminal proceedings and preliminary examinations, or hand down any type of punishment, including sending defendants to forced labor camps and reeducation camps.”

The justice department materials presented a case involving the Sunchon Vinalon Complex as an example of a situation where the department’s oversight may have been needed. The complex faced problems when Sunchon Vinalon Complex security officials reportedly gave workers sentences between three years at a forced labor camp to five years at a reeducation camp without taking the severity of their crimes into account.

Up until this point, incident reports filed by the factory’s Ministry of Social Security office were sent to security committees made up of members from party, government, and judicial agencies through municipal and county Ministry of Social Security offices for final confirmation. The justice department’s inspection determined that people received excessive punishments even in incidents where remedial education would have been sufficient.   

Rodong Sinmun reported on Jan. 8 that the third meeting of the Eighth Party Congress commenced on Jan. 7, 2021. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

According to the source, North Korean authorities explained that, in the future, the justice department will have the last word on such cases based on its “accurate supervision and judgement” so that such instances of random and unjust law enforcement no longer occur.

“When case documents were produced in the past, security committees would stamp the documents without asking any questions if they were friendly with law enforcement personnel filing them, but now they need to get approval from the justice department before concluding their cases,” the source said. “[The new rules] show that the newly established department’s ultimate mission and objective is to achieve the Party’s policy of preventing a split between the Party and the masses.” 

The source said that the OGD referenced a case involving the Institute for National Defense Science in the materials. After establishing the justice department, the forced labor camp attached to each institution came under the direct management of each institution’s party committee. The change in management had the unintended effect of causing people to feud over the position of camp director. 

After the Academy of National Defense Science’s labor camp came directly under the control of the institute’s party committee, an individual that had a school and hometown connection with party committee officers used his connections to become the camp director. 

The position of camp director at the Academy of National Defense Science was already known as a plum position because government rations never got cut off. However, the source claimed that when the camp director’s status increased within the party after North Korean authorities transferred camp management to party committees, feuds erupted over the position.

When the original camp director was forced to step down from his position, he submitted a petition to the party committee saying “I did nothing wrong, but I got fired for no reason.” As a result, the section of the information packet that described this anecdote also mentioned that the institute’s party committee received a harsh warning about corruption from the OGD and the justice department. 

“The OGD emphasized that the reason the labor camp is directly managed by the institute’s party committee is so they can supervise the camps to ensure that punishment through labor is enforced according to Party rules,” the source explained. “That way they can watch out for situations like the one that occurred at the Academy of National Defense Science.”

The source said that the former director got his job back after making an appeal to the Academy of National Defense Science party committee. Locals are saying, however, that the reason the authorities reinstated him is because he will retire within one to two years anyway due to routine personnel changes.

*This article included an incorrect translation of 법무부. It should have been “justice department” instead of “ministry of justice.” This article has been corrected to reflect this change. 

*Translated by S & J

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.