Death penalty summit condemns North Korea

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Death penalty summit condemns North Korea

At an ongoing death penalty abolition conference in Madrid, the world’s oldest international human rights organization condemned the dire death penalty situation in North Korea, saying it is used systematically by the totalitarian regime for “nonserious crimes” with the purpose of “maintaining social order and political control.”

The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) presented its recent report, “The death penalty in North Korea: In the machinery of a totalitarian state” at the four-day 5th World Congress against the Death Penalty which kicked off in Madrid Wednesday.

“In North Korea, insignificant acts, which according to the regime affect the State’s legitimacy or ideology,” said Souhayr Belhassen, president of FIDH, “can lead you to a firing squad.”

The report contains testimonies from 12 North Korean asylum seekers who have witnessed executions in North Korea, based on the findings of a mission comprised of a group of human rights lawyers and experts dispatched to Seoul last December to investigate the application of the death penalty in North Korea.

One witness recounts a man in his 30s accused of stealing electric wires from his factory was shot to death by a firing squad in 2003 in South Pyongan Province.

Another man was executed for stealing a cow to feed his family, also killed by a firing squad in 2006 in a public market place.

In 2009 and 2010 in Sinuiju, a northwestern city neighboring Dandong, China, another witness claimed more than 10 people were publicly executed for counterfeiting money and foreign currency.

The report stated, “Public and secret executions are carried out and the death penalty is applied to nonserious crimes and against vulnerable groups,” including women, children, homosexuals and repatriated defectors. Non-serious crimes include economic crimes, theft, prostitution, homosexual acts, adultery, religious practice or political offenses.

Calling the death penalty in North Korea “tantamount to an arbitrary deprivation of life,” the 38-page report said that victims are further denied the right to a fair trial, executed based on forced confessions and killed in front of large crowds, sometimes in front of schools or in front of family members, or sometimes secretly in prison camps.

The federation has expressed concern regarding the safety of nine young defectors who were repatriated from Laos to Pyongyang last month because returned defectors often face harsh labor camps or even death penalty.

North Korea is one of 58 countries in the world that still permits the death penalty and one of 21 countries that reportedly carried out executions last year.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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