In the aftermath of the purge of Kim Won Hong, the former head of North Korea’s State Security Department, Kim Jong Un has reportedly ordered the State Security Department to cease human rights abuses.
A source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on February 8 that an emergency meeting was held at the Ryanggang Province branch of the State Security Department (SSD) for three days from January 25 to 27. During the meeting, the decision to dismiss Kim Wong Hong and execute five SSD cadres was announced, as well as orders to eliminate human rights abuses such as beatings and the torture of residents.
“Statements such as ‘You should not abuse your power to make money,’ and ‘These corrupt actions are turning the residents away from the Republic (North Korea)’ were also made during the meeting,” the source said.
The SSD is responsible for monitoring the movement of residents and their ideological leanings, arresting those who oppose the regime and investigating crimes that damage the ‘Highest Dignity [Kim Jong Un].’ It also operates the country’s numerous political prison camps.
In addition, the SSD has been responsible for border security since Kim Jong Un took power. The primary aim of border security is to prevent defections and the influx of external information which is mostly facilitated by smuggled Chinese mobile phones. The SSD has also carried out a number of brutal executions of high-ranking officials under Kim Jong Un’s orders.
Although officials working for the SSD follow orders given by the regime, they face threats of execution and imprisonment every day. According to the source’s opinion, Kim Won Hong was purged to take responsibility for the negative public sentiment that has increased following stricter measures on border control and crackdowns.
“Unlike previously, when executions of cadres were mostly covered up, the SSD agents are now deliberately leaking such news to the public. They are apparently hoping to convince people that the purged executives are responsible for the frequent beatings and torture perpetrated by the regime,” a source in South Pyongan Province.
However, residents have been responding coldly. The SSD has already established itself as “nothing but evil in the minds of residents,” she said, and no one expects that there will be any improvement in human rights.
“Residents are mostly pessimistic, saying, ‘I am not interested in whether Kim Won Hong was purged or SSD cadres were executed,’ or ‘The vampires sucking our blood and sweat remain,'” she noted.
“Some residents are also saying, ‘The [state-run publication] Rodong Sinmun has been claiming that there are no human rights violations, but now the regime admits that it has been abusing human rights after all.'”
In this regard, the international community has frequently pointed out that the continued abuses of human rights in North Korea are the direct responsibility of the Supreme Leader. The report from the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea states, “The United Nations must hold the perpetrators of crimes against humanity in North Korea accountable for their actions.”
Therefore, the Kim Jong Un regime can be expected to continue its surveillance, coercion and terror tactics, while seeking to avoid culpability.