North Korea continues to carry out state killings as a way of intimidating its citizens, campaigners say, although the number of executions may be declining in the face of mounting international pressure.
Pyongyang has long been accused of using state killings to instill fear among its population, and leader Kim Jong Un has executed top aides in the past — including his powerful uncle, Jang Song Thaek, in 2013.
A new report by the Transitional Justice Working Group documents hundreds of public executions over several decades — the most recent in 2015 — for charges as trivial as stealing copper or a cow.
“The rules on public execution demand that three shooters fire three rounds each into the body of the condemned person, for a total of nine bullets,” says Seoul-based group, which seeks to highlight what is says are grievous human rights abuses by the North.
This was a widely used tactic, especially against the elites, it added, “designed to maximize public intimidation, in the knowledge that information about execution methods will spread throughout the country.”
But the study — based on the testimonies of 610 North Korean defectors — also suggested that Pyongyang was growing more concerned about international scrutiny, forcing it to scale back on the practice.