Open main menu

Capital punishment is a legal and often-used form of punishment in North Korea for many offences, such as grand theft, murder, rape, drug smuggling, treason, espionage, political dissidence, defection, piracy, consumption of media not approved by the government and proselytizing religious beliefs that contradict practiced Juche ideology.[1] Current working knowledge of the topic depends heavily on the accounts of defectors (both relatives of victims, and former members of the government).[1] Executions are mostly carried out by firing squad, hanging or decapitation in public, making North Korea one of the last four countries to still perform public executions, the other three being Iran, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.[2]


Reported executionsEdit

The South Korean based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights has collected testimony on 1,193 historic executions in North Korea to 2009.[3] Amnesty International reported that there were 105 executions between 2007 and 2012.[4] The Foreign Policy periodical estimated there were 60 executions in 2010.[5] In October 2001, the North Korean government told the UN Human Rights Committee that only 13 executions had occurred since 1998 and that no public execution had occurred since 1992.[1]

On November 3, 2013, according to a JoongAng Ilbo report, at least 80 people were publicly executed for minor offenses. The executions were said to be carried out simultaneously in Wonsan, Chongjin, Sariwon, Pyongsong and three other North Korean cities for crimes such as watching South Korean movies, distributing pornography or possessing a Bible. According to a witness from Wonsan, 10,000 residents were forced to watch when eight people were machine-gunned to death at the local Shinpoong stadium.[6]

On December 13, 2013, North Korean state media announced the execution of Jang Sung-taek, the uncle by marriage of North Korea's leader at the time, Kim Jong-un.[7] The South Korean National Intelligence Service believes that two of his closest aides, Lee Yong-ha and Jang Soo-keel, were executed in mid-November.[8] According to a South Korean newspaper, Jang's nephew, O Sang-hon, was executed by being burnt alive with a flame thrower.[9][10]

In 2014 the United Nations Human Rights Council created a Commission of inquiry on human rights in the DPRK, investigating and documenting many instances of executions carried out with or without trial, publicly or secretly, in response to political and other crimes that are often not among the most serious. The Commission determined that these systematic acts, including extermination and murder, rise to the level of crimes against humanity.[1]

Public executionsEdit

North Korea resumed public executions in October 2007 after they had declined in the years following 2000 amidst international criticism. Prominent executed criminals include officials convicted of drug trafficking and embezzlement. Common criminals convicted of crimes such as murder, robbery, rape, drug dealing, smuggling, piracy, vandalism, etc. have also been reported to be executed, mostly by firing squad. The country does not publicly release national crime statistics or reports on the levels of crimes.[11] As of 2012, North Korea is one of four countries carrying out executions in public, the other three being Iran, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.[2]

In October 2007, a South Pyongan province factory chief convicted of making international phone calls from 13 phones he installed in his factory basement was executed by firing squad in front of a crowd of 150,000 people in a stadium, according to a report from a South Korean aid agency called Good Friends.[5][12] Good Friends also reported that six were killed in the rush as spectators left. In another instance, 15 people were publicly executed for crossing the border into China.[13]

A U.N. General Assembly committee has adopted a draft resolution, co-sponsored by more than 50 countries, expressing "very serious concern" at reports of widespread human rights violations in North Korea, including public executions. North Korea has condemned the draft, saying it is inaccurate and biased, but it was still sent to the then 192-member General Assembly for a final vote.[14]

In 2011, two people were executed in front of 500 spectators for handling propaganda leaflets floated across the border from South Korea, apparently as part of a campaign by former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to tighten ideological control as he groomed his youngest son as the eventual successor.[15]

In June 2019, a South Korean NGO the Transitional Justice Working Group released a report “Mapping the Fate of the Dead” that identified 318 sites in North Korea used by the government for public executions.[16] According to the NGO, public executions have taken place near rivers, fields, markets, schools, and sports grounds. The report alleges that family members and children of those sentenced to death were forced to watch their executions.[17]

Capital punishment in prison campsEdit

Amnesty International says torture and executions are widespread in political prisons in North Korea.[18] Testimonies describe secret and public executions in North Korean prisons by firing squad, decapitation or by hanging.[19] Executions are used as a means of deterrence, often accompanied by torture.[20]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Kirby, Michael Donald; Biserko, Sonja; Darusman, Marzuki (February 7, 2014). "Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -­ A/HRC/25/CRP.1". United Nations Human Rights Council. Archived from the original on February 27, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Rogers, Simon; Chalabi, Mona (December 13, 2013). "Death penalty statistics, country by country". The Guardian. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  3. ^ "White Paper on North Korean Human Rights 2009" (PDF). Seoul: Database Center for North Korean Human Rights. May 31, 2009. ISBN 978-89-93739-03-9. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 4, 2013. Retrieved December 3, 2013.
  4. ^ "Death penalty statistics, country by country". Datablog. The Guardian. 2016. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  5. ^ a b Joshua E. Keating (September 22, 2011). "The World's Top Executioners". Foreign Policy. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  6. ^ Lee, Young-Jong (November 11, 2013). "Public executions seen in 7 North Korea cities". 'Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved December 3, 2013.
  7. ^ "Even by North Korean standards, this announcement of Jang Song Thaek's execution is intense". Washington Post. December 12, 2013. Retrieved December 13, 2013.
  8. ^ "Seoul: Kim Jung Un Fires Uncle, Executes his Associates". Voice of Asia News. December 3, 2013. Retrieved December 3, 2013.
  9. ^ Julian Ryall (April 7, 2014). "North Korean official 'executed by flame-thrower'". The Daily Telegraph.
  10. ^ "N.Korea Shuts Down Jang Song-taek's Department". Chosun Ilbo. April 7, 2014.
  11. ^ "Korea, Democratic People's Republic of", Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State. Retrieved September 25, 2013.
  12. ^ "150,000 Witness North Korea Execution of Factory Boss Whose Crime Was Making International Phone Calls" Archived May 27, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Fox News, November 27, 2007.
  13. ^ Public executions by North Korea is another injustice Archived 2009-01-29 at the Wayback Machine, Amnesty International, March 7, 2008.
  14. ^ "North Korea resumes public executions". A non-profit organization work towards realization of Human rights and protects crime against humanity. English-language version of Pravda. November 26, 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
  15. ^ "Public Executions over Leaflets". Parameswaran Ponnudurai. Radio Free Asia (RFA). January 24, 2011. Retrieved July 12, 2013.
  16. ^ "MAPPING THE FATE OF THE DEAD: KILLINGS AND BURIALS IN NORTH KOREA" (PDF). Transitional Justice Working Group. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  17. ^ "North Korea: Hundreds of public execution sites identified, says report". BBC News. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  18. ^ "Amnesty: Torture, Execution Rampant in Vast N. Korea Prisons". Voice of Asia News. December 4, 2013. Retrieved December 13, 2013.
  19. ^ "Political Prison Camps in North Korea Today" (PDF), Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, 2.1.2 Public and Secret Executions (p. 455 – 480), July 15, 2011, archived from the original (PDF) on February 28, 2013, retrieved December 13, 2013
  20. ^ "North Korea: A case to answer – a call to act" (PDF). Christian Solidarity Worldwide. June 20, 2007. pp. 36–37. Retrieved December 13, 2013.

External linksEdit