This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A report published Friday by a Seoul-based North Korean defector-led NGO details the extreme measures by which the Kim Jong Un regime has been able to instill fear, purging 421 officials since 2010 as a means of consolidating power around the Supreme Leader ever since he took office.
In researching the report, “Executions and Purges of North Korean Elites: An Investigation into Genocide Based on High-Ranking Officials’ Testimonies,” the North Korean Strategy Center (NKSC) collected accounts by 14 North Korean elite group defectors, six North Korean officials in China, and five other defectors who witnessed executions.
At a panel discussion in Washington on Friday, NKSC Chairman Kang Chol-hwan said that these testimonies reveal that since becoming the apparent heir to his father Kim Jong Il in 2010, Kim Jong Un and his regime have purged a confirmed 421 people.
The report names specific key figures that were executed, sometimes publicly, or banished. These include members of Kim’s family, such as his uncle Jang Song Thaek, who was executed in 2013, and Kim’s half-brother Jong-nam, who was assassinated at a Malaysian airport in 2017.
When he had his uncle Jang killed, “more than 15 people were killed and 400 others were purged,” the report says, quoting a book by Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean envoy to the United Kingdom who defected to South Korea in 2016.
“Not even the youngest members involved in delivering documents were tolerated or shown mercy,” Thae added.
He explained that the official reason for the purges were because Jang “sold the country’s resources to foreign countries at a low price.”
Meanwhile, on the assassination of Kim Jong Nam in the Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017, the report cites the testimony of a former North Korean Spy surnamed Ri, who had been dispatched to South Korea.
“It is undeniable that the Kim Jong Un regime was behind the act of terror against Kim Jong-nam,” said Ri in the report.
“The assassination was a direct order from Kim Jong Un. The basis behind such reasoning is simple: there is no country or individual, other than Kim Jong Un’s regime who would wish to kill Kim Jong-nam,” said Ri.
Two Southeast Asian women are on trial in Malaysia for the killing and face the possible death penalty
The report, confined only to confirmed cases, lists the full names of more than 50 purge targets, while confirming that hundreds more were purged or executed without naming those victims.
The report details nine purging methods, including especially cruel methods like hanging, feeding naked prisoners to hungry animals, and use of anti-aircraft guns or flamethrowers in firing squads.
A former student at Pyongyang Commercial College identified as Moon said in the report that he had witnessed a public execution of 12 people carried out by soldiers operating four anti-aircraft guns. He said that the four guns were aimed at one person and simultaneously fired, before being re-aimed at the next victim.
After the execution, Moon described an armored vehicle crushing their remains. He said he had nightmares and could not eat for several days after seeing the spectacle.
At the panel discussion, Jared Genser, a member of Human Rights in North Korea’s (HRNK) International Advisory Council explained that these methods were meant to control not only the ordinary citizen, but also those close to the regime.
“They need to instill fear into people working for the authoritarian leader, and they need to keep people at bay by making them very fearful that anything they say or do could result in torture, extrajudicial killing, arbitrary detention and so forth,” Genser said.
Kang said that the timing of this report was perfect, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s planned second summit with Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam is scheduled for next week.
He issued a plea to Trump to raise human rights with Kim as they discuss nuclear disarmament and other security issues in Hanoi.
“Read this report that has hard evidence of the facts, and they’re corroborated. Know your counterpart, who he is. The single most important issue when dealing with him is not denuclearization. It is the human rights issue,” said Kang through an interpreter.
HRNK Board Member David Maxwell, who also serves as a senior fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Trump should read the report.
“This report, if we could have the president read it, or read parts of it, read some of the testimony would really, I think change the president’s mind or at least give him insights,” Maxwell said.
“So when he looks at Kim in the eye, he can think about what he has done to the people in the North,” Maxwell added.
While the major topic for discussion at next week’s summit will be the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, every panelist stressed the importance of keeping the human rights issue front and center.
Genser said that he believes Kim has no interest in denuclearization.
“Why would any authoritarian leader in their right mind give up weapons of mass destruction, when they saw what happened to Saddam Hussein, when they saw what happened to Muammar Gaddafi and many others?” he said.