According to a report by the Seoul-based Transition Justice Working Group, the findings are the accumulation of four years of research “to document and map” locations related to human rights violations in North Korea. The group based its reports on interviews with 610 North Korean defectors who revealed information on execution site locations with the aid of satellite imagery. The group did not reveal the exact locations of the sites but did note that 267 of the locations were in two northeastern provinces near the country’s border with China.
The group also said that it identified three sites where people died while being held in detention, as well as 25 sites where dead bodies were disposed of by the state.
In addition, the report alleged that before each execution, a “brief trial” is held at the location.
“Brief ‘trials’ almost always occur on the spot immediately before a public execution, where charges are stated and a sentence given without legal counsel for the accused, who very often appears ‘half dead’ when brought to the site by the authorities,” the report explains.
In addition, the most “commonly cited offenses” punished with the death penalty in North Korea include murder or attempted murder, stealing copper, human trafficking, stealing cows and other property and economic crimes.
"However, given the lack of due process in the North Korean judicial system it is difficult to know whether the charges announced at an execution actually match the act committed by the accused," the report states, adding that throngs of 1,000 or more people usually attend the public executions, which are typically held at places such as “river banks, open spaces and fields, market places, hills/mountains, sports grounds and school grounds.”
In addition, family members are usually forced to watch the execution of their loved ones, the report states.
“The North Korean government’s routine killing of its citizens and the denial of the right of family members to give the dead a proper burial has profound effects that last long after the event,” the report notes.
In a white paper last week, the Korea Institute for National Unification, a South Korean think tank, also alleged that North Korea still uses public executions to instill fear in its people. However, it stated that the number of executions being carried out by the regime may be on the decline.
"It is yet unclear whether the decline is due to an actual drop in the number of public executions or because the number of undisclosed executions of the death penalty or secret summary executions is increasing,” the Korea Institute for National Unification said in its paper.