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Penal Code of 1999

Penal Code of 2004

Comparison

Organizing an armed

revolt, or participating in

or conspiracy thereof, to

overturn the state. . .

(Art. 44)

Participating in a coup d’état,

armed rebellion, civil disturbance, or

attack, with the aim of overturning

the state, or conspiracy thereof. . .

(Art. 59)

More specific by

illustrating patterns

of criminal act

Who engaged in terrorist

acts. . . (Art. 45)

Terrorist acts inflicting injuries on,

or murdering and kid--napping. . .

(Art. 60)

More specific by

illustrating patterns

of criminal act

The phrase, “particularly serious cases,” could be seen as an

improvement since it would mean that the death penalty would

be a sentence delivered only in “exceptional” and “grave” cases.

However, the phrase still leaves room for arbitrary interpretation.

Since the 1999 revision, North Korea has raised the age limit for

the death sentence from 17 to 18 years of age. This is in accordance

with the international human rights covenants. Thus, North Korea

has responded in a fashion to international criticism of the political

nature of its death penalty provisions. However, even these latest

revisions are not completely free from political interpretations.

In spite of the Penal Code provisions, capital punishment is

still stipulated in many of North Korea’s instructions, proclamations,

and other official documents. For example, on January 5, 2008, the

Organization Bureau of the KWP Central Party Headquarters issued

instructions on “making this year free of human trafficking” and

disseminated them all across the border regions. This document

makes mandatory the punishment with heavy penalties of those

caught trafficking humans. For example, it proclaims that if anyone

is found to have participated in human-trafficking, they shall be put

to death without exception.2

2_

Good Friends, “North Korea Today,” No. 107 (Jan. 30, 2008).

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B. Public Executions

The most widely known and serious violation of the right

to life in North Korea is “public execution.” Amnesty International

(AI) was the first to inform the international community about the

practice of public execution in North Korea. In a special report on

North Korea published in October 1993 Amnesty International

criticized North Korean authorities for their practice of “public

execution.”

Article 32 of the Court Sentence and Decision Implementation

Law stipulates that death sentences shall be carried out by firing

squad. Death sentences are usually carried out by firing squad, with

nine shots normally fired, but hanging is also known to be used.

Regarding the procedures of public execution, the “defectors”

have testified as follows: The Republic’s flag is draped in the

background, and people from the Central Prosecutors’ Office will

come down to the site. Also participating will be the director of

Provincial Safety, the director of the Provincial Security Agency,

a court official, and others. The trial is conducted openly. A court

official will read out criminal charges and then hand down the

sentence. A defector testified that a court official would read out

criminal charges and then pronounce that he was handing down

the death sentence in accordance with such and such articles of the

Penal Code of DPRK.3

Clearly, public execution violates most fundamental of all

human rights and poses a direct threat to North Koreans’ right to

life. Furthermore, it is a flagrant violation of North Korea’s domestic

laws.

First, public execution breaches various stipulations contained

3_

Testimony of defector XXX during an interview in Seoul on Jan. 9, 2008.

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in North Korea’s own penal code. Many victims of public execution

face a firing squad even though their crimes do not rise to the

level pursuant to the death sentence stipulations in the penal code.

Many North Korean defectors (the ‘defectors’ in South Korea) have

testified that the right to life of ordinary North Korean citizens,

not to mention political prisoners, is seriously jeopardized because

North Korean authorities will impose the death sentence not only

for crimes stipulated in the penal code but also for minor social

misdemeanors stemming from economic hardship.

Second, North Korean authorities are violating various

provisions of Criminal Procedure Law in the process of carrying

out public executions. The 2004 revisions have also adopted stricter

provisions regarding the execution of death sentences. Under

North Korean Criminal Procedure Law, the executing agency, after

receipt of a copy of the court decision and the execution order,

may carry out the execution only in the presence of a prosecutor

and with the approval of the SPA Presidium (Art. 419, 421, 422).

Also, the executing agency must notify the sentencing court of

the implementation of the death sentence within three days of

execution (Art. 423). Article 24 of Court Sentence and Decision

Implementation Law, revised in 1998, stipulates that the agency in

receipt of the death sentence execution order is responsible for the

execution of the death sentence. Public executions are therefore

clearly in violation of this provision.

Regarding the international criticism of public executions,

North Korea strongly denies them, arguing that such criticisms

were total fabrications concocted by forces hostile to the North

Korean regime. However, North Korea has admitted one such case,

for which evidence was presented during the second periodic report

review process. North Korea said it had publicly executed a violent

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criminal, Ju Soo-man, in Hamhung in October, 1992, for having

brutally murdered his grand parents, Ju Jong-eun (84) and Choi

Yon-ok (72). Even though admitting this case of public execution,

North Korea maintained the position that the authorities had done

it to comply with the demands of the masses in the area.

In spite of North Korean assertions, there is clear evidence of

breaches of the right to life. Graphic II-1 below depicts an ‘official

proclamation’ posted by North Korea’s Social Safety Agency on

August 5, 1997. In the proclamation, North Korean authorities

threaten to publicly execute by firing squad anyone caught stealing

grains from collective farms. This is a flagrant violation of both the

Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Law.

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