Report: North Korea conducts public executions for theft, South Korean media distribution

SEOUL, July 19 (Reuters) - North Korea carries out public executions on river banks and at school grounds and marketplaces for charges such as stealing copper from factory machines, distributing media from South Korea and prostitution, a report issued on Wednesday said.

The report, by a Seoul-based non-government group, said the often extra-judicial decisions for public executions are frequently influenced by "bad" family background or a government campaign to discourage certain behavior.

The Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) said its report was based on interviews with 375 North Korean defectors from the isolated state over a period of two years.

Reuters could not independently verify the testimony of defectors in the report. The TJWG is made up of human rights activists and researchers and is led by Lee Younghwan, who has worked as an advocate for human rights in North Korea.

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A missile is carried by a military vehicle during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
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A North Korean scientist looks at a monitor showing the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at the satellite control centre of the Korean Committee of Space Technology on the outskirts of Pyongyang April 11, 2012. North Korea said on Wednesday it was injecting fuel into a long-range rocket ahead of a launch condemned by its neighbours and the West. The launch is set to take place between Thursday and next Monday and has prompted neighbours such as the Philippines to re-route their air traffic. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
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It receives most of its funding from the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy, which in turn is funded by the U.S. Congress.

The TJWG report aims to document the locations of public killings and mass burials, which it says had not been done previously, to support an international push to hold to account those who commit 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.

North Korea rejects charges of human rights abuses, saying its citizens enjoy protection under the constitution and accuses the United States of being the world's worst rights violator.

However, the North has faced an unprecedented push to hold the regime and its leader, Kim Jong Un, accountable for a wide range of rights abuses since a landmark 2014 report by a United Nations commission.

U.N. member countries urged the Security Council in 2014 to consider referring North Korea and its leader to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, as alleged in a Commission of Inquiry report.

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The commission detailed abuses including 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 that inquiry's findings and the push to bring the North to a tribunal remains stalled due in part to objections by China and Russia, which hold veto powers at the U.N. Security Council.

TJWG said its project to map the locations of mass graves and executions has the potential to contribute to documentation that could back the push for accountability and future efforts to bring the North to justice.

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.

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1. While Kim Jong Un's birthday on January 8 is a national holiday, it is unknown exactly how old the North Korean leader is. It's widely believed he is in his early-mid thirties. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department listed his birth year as 1984 when they placed sanctions on North Korea.

 (KCNA via REUTERS)

2. Kim Jong Un is the world's youngest leader, according to the date listed by the Treasury. 

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Kim Jong Un is very passionate about basketball. He is reportedly a big fan of Michael Jordan and has a friendly relationship with Jordan's former Chicago Bulls teammate Dennis Rodman. Rodman has visited the secluded nation multiple times and even sang him "Happy Birthday" before an exhibition game in Jan. 2014. 

(REUTERS/KCNA)

4. Kim Jong Un reportedly has a love for smoking, whiskey and cheese

(KCNA/via Reuters)

5. Kim Jong Un's older half-brother Kim Jong Nam was killed in Feb. 2017 by two women who smeared VX nerve agent on his face at an airport in Kuala Lumpur. The women were arrested following his death. Many believe the hit was directed by North Korea. 

(KCNA; REUTERS)

6. Kim Jong Un has two college degrees. One is in physics from Kim il Sung University and another as an Army officer obtained from the Kim Il Sung Military University.

(KCNA/REUTERS)

7. Kim Jong Un attended boarding school in Switzerland. It is widely disputed how much time he spent at the school. Most reports say he was abroad from 1998-2000. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

8. Kim Jong Un is the only general in the world that does not have any military experience. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

9. He married Ri Sol Ju in 2009. The couple has at least one daughter named Ju Ae. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

10. Kim Jong Un had his uncle Jang Song Thaek arrested and executed for treachery in 2013. 

(REUTERS/Kyodo)

11. Kim Jong Un hand selected North Korea's first all-female music group -- Moranbong Band. They made their debut in 2012. 

(ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

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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.

Defectors from the North have previously testified to having witnessed public executions and rights abuses at detention facilities. (Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)

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