The Seoul-based Transitional Justice Working Group of people declared its research was depending on interviews with 610 North Korean defectors who helped locate the sites with satellite photographs.
The group didn’t expose the specific locations of the 323 sites because it’s concerned that North Korea will tamper with them, but declared 267 of them were situated in two northeastern provinces near the border with China, the area where most of the defectors who took part in the study came from.
North Korea’s public executions tend to occur near rivers, in fields, and on hills, and also at marketplaces and school grounds — places where residents and family members of those sentenced are often forced to attend the killings, the report declared. The group also said it reported 25 sites where the dead were allegedly disposed of by the state and also found official areas that may have documents or other proof related to the killings.
The Associated Press could not independently verify the state, and the group acknowledged that its discovery wasn’t definite because it doesn’t have direct access to North Korea and cannot check out the sites defectors told it about. Heeseok Shim, one of the report’s authors, also said interviews with defectors recommend that public executions in North Korea are becoming less frequent, although it’s unclear whether that’s because more people are being executed in secret.
The Transitional Justice Working Group is a nongovernment group founded by human rights advocates and research workers from South Korea and four other nations. The group declared the new report was made possible by funding from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the U.S. Congress.
North Korea didn’t instantly respond to the report, but the country bristles at outside criticism of its human rights record and claims harmful assessments are part of U .S .-led pressure campaigns meant to tarnish the image of its leadership and destroy the country’s political method. In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in May, North Korea said it “consistently keeps the principle of ensuring scientific accuracy, objectivity, and impartiality, along with protecting human rights in dealing with criminal cases.”
A 2014 United Nations report on North Korea’s human rights conditions, nevertheless, said state authorities carry out executions, “with or without trial, publicly or secretly,” based on political and other crimes that are often not one of the most serious offenses. While public executions were more common in the 1990s, North Korea goes on to carry them out for the purpose of instilling fear in the general population, the report said.
The new report said its discovery show arbitrary executions and extrajudicial killings under state custody have continued under the rule of new leader Kim Jong UN despite international criticism over how North Korea supposedly applies the death penalty without due judicial process. The majority of the state killings documented in the report were public executions by firing squad. Public executions are nearly always preceded by brief “trials” immediately where charges are declared and sentences are granted without legal counsel for the accused, the report said. Bodies of people killed by state agents are not usually returned to the family and are often dumped in mountainous areas, buried in the ground without markers, or thrown into a gorge or ravine, it said.
The rights group said the information is collected will be crucial if a political transition in North Korea provides for the identification of victims, the return of remains to families and research into human rights abuses committed by the government.