As North Korea advances toward achieving its long-term goal of developing a nuclear-armed ICBM capable of reaching the US mainland (or at least Sarah Palin's home state), a host of defectors who've managed to escape from the isolated Communist state have gathered testimonies about the North’s human-rights abuses in hopes of "optically" pushing international diplomacy to their, and the US' diplomatic advantage.
China and Russia have used their veto power at the Security Counil to cover for the North at the UN, helping to water down official sanctions of the regime while minimizing censure. But the latest report, collected from the testimony of more than 300 defectors, recounts stories of public executions and mass burials, the stuff of nightmares for human-rights advocates and source of widespread western media outrage.
The organization behind the report, known as the Transitional Justice Working Group, said it was based on interviews with 375 North Korean defectors, conducted over a period of two years. The TJWG receives most of its funding from the US-based National Endowment for Democracy, which in turn is funded by Congress, according to Reuters.
"The report describes public executions carried out on river banks, at school grounds and marketplaces for charges as minimal as stealing copper from factory machines, distributing media from South Korea or prostitution. “It said executions are carried out in prison camps to incite fear and intimidation among potential escapees, and public executions are carried out for seemingly minor crimes, including the theft of farm produce such as corn and rice.
Stealing electric cables and other commodities from factories to sell them and distribution of South Korean-produced media are also subject to executions, which are most commonly administered by shooting, it said.
Testimonies also showed people can be beaten to death, with one interviewee saying: "Some crimes were considered not worth wasting bullets on." Government officials were executed on corruption and espionage charges, and bureaucrats from other regions would be made to watch "as a deterrence tactic", the report said.”
Reuters said it could not independently verify the testimony of defectors in the report. The TJWG, an organization made up of human rights activists and researchers, is led by Lee Younghwan, who has worked as an advocate for human rights in North Korea.
The TJWG report, which was indirectly financed by the US government, echoed a landmark 2014 report by the United Nations alleging widespread human-rights violations. At the time, UN member countries were urging the Security Council to consider referring North Korea and its leader to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
The UN report detailed abuses like large prison camps, systematic torture, starvation and executions comparable to Nazi-era atrocities, and linked the activities to the North's leadership. North Korea has rejected these findings, and the push to bring the North to a tribunal remains stalled due in part to objections by China and Russia.
TJWG aims to document the locations of public killings and mass burials, which it says has not been done previously, to support an international push to hold those who committed what it describes as crimes against humanity.
"The maps and the accompanying testimonies create a picture of the scale of the abuses that have taken place over decades," the group said.
TJWG said its project to map the locations of mass graves and executions has the potential to produce documentation necessary to bring the North’s leaders to justice. But with the North’s powerful protector, China, unwilling to allow the collapse of the Kim regime, these activists are in for a wait. In the interim, we’re confident many more reports like this will be released as the US prepares for what appears to be a violent showdown with the Kim regime.