By Max S. Kim*
On December 10, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and proclaimed that “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Specifically, this Declaration spelled out basic human rights, such as the right to life and liberty (Article 3), freedom from slavery (Article 4), freedom from torture (Article 5), freedom of movement and residence (Article 13), among other things. This year marks its 70th anniversary and many events were organized globally in commemoration of the solemn proclamation of the fundamental and inalienable human rights. With the humble recognition that others are entitled to the same rights and equal dignity that we are entitled to, humanity’s future becomes better and brighter for moral growth and spiritual evolution.
But North Korea, or DPRK, has persistently stayed away from human rights for the past 70 years and continues its outlaw behavior in the international community. This pathetic state only knows robbery, hacking, forgery, and deception as virtues, and has worked its way through illegality to sustain its financial portfolio. This sick-minded regime has sent their men overseas for slave labor and even traded their women as sex slaves. Yet the regime’s leader, who has gained excess weight due to indulgence in food and wine consumption, has spent the overworked and starving men and women’s hard-earned money for extravagant imports, such as a brand-new Rolls-Royce Phantom for himself and kinky lingerie sets for the girls in his “pleasure squad,” to which his current wife once belonged also.
This is a regime in which the chubby man is literally a living god, and other humans were born to function as the nuts and bolts of his corrupt system and be servile to him. In this regime people are expandable goods, and human rights are simply unheard of. The regime’s doctrine states that it recognizes only “one person”—the chubby leader—and all others exist on his behalf and for his pleasure. Anyone who displeased him or accidentally touched a nerve has faced their fate before the firing squad. No one shows sympathy with the dead since they were “criminals” having committed the unforgiveable crime of displeasing the leader. The residents in Pyongyang begin their days with humble bows towards the embalmed bodies of the regime’s ruthless back-to-back tyrants, stately laid in the capital’s “Museum of the Dead.”
Kim Jong Un, the regime’s third and current tyrant—and surely the last one—has already surpassed his two predecessors in the use of excess violence and extreme cruelty for oppressive rule. The degree and extent of the barbarity and sadistic cruelty committed by this psychopathic regime constitute a prime case of crime against humanity. It is the responsibility of the civilized world to keep documented evidence of violence done by the regime against its people. The day of judgment is nearing. I will give a summary of Chol Hwan Kang’s report, delivered at a recent human rights forum held at South Korea’s National Assembly, of the public executions carried out in North Korea between 2010 to 2018, during which time Kim Jong Un has been the de facto ruler. Kang was himself a detainee at the notorious Yoduk, North Korea camp for political prisoners but managed to escape.
For the past 8 years, the number of confirmed high-level executions alone has reached 421, including Kim Il Sung’s son-in-law and eldest grandson, and this figure does not include those executed, tortured to death, and incarcerated in concentration camps over the years. This is estimated to be at least 20,000, including the victims’ families. Many were publicly executed in an abhorrible and unprecedented manner: they were shot with anti-aircraft guns, not rifles, and any bodily remains then were burned with flame-throwers. The execution of Jang Song Thaek, the leader’s uncle and Kim Il Sung’s son-in-law made the headline in 2013, as it broke for the first time the regime’s 70-year-old taboo that prohibited Kim’s family members from capital punishment. Jang’s wife, who was Kim Il Sung’s daughter, violently protested her husband’s execution and was later found murdered too. The regime’s first-born grandson and half-brother of Jong Un’s then was murdered at the Kuala Lumpur Airport with military-grade nerve agent. In North Korea their executions would be impossible and unthinkable without orders from Kim Jong Un.
When Kim’s orchestra band members were executed, their unrecognizable bodies riddled with bullets and already reduced to fleshy chunks were then crushed and bulldozed with armored vehicles. Their crime? They gossiped about the appearance of Kim’s wife in adult movies with them when she was a band member. The regime’s defense secretary also became a victim before the firing squad with anti-aircraft guns. His crime? The 66-year-old general dozed when the 31-year-old leader was delivering a public speech. Many victims were executed together with their family members, including infants and children, since it is the regime’s motto to “wipe out the traitors’ roots and DNA permanently,” which is effectively ethnic cleansing. These barbaric executions and cruel handling of political prisoners made the beholders speechless and numb with fears.
In North Korea, executions of party officials and military officers need direct approval and hand-signed orders from the leader, which lets us have a glimpse into his psychopathic inner world. The use of excess violence and extreme cruelty against those who displeased him reveal the shaky foundation of Kim’s authoritarianism. His extreme cowardice for his own safety masked his violent behaviors. His fear for public leaks of his shabby past has become sheer paranoia. The cosmetic surgery he underwent to become his grandfather’s lookalike showcases his lack of confidence and psychological instability.
In an interview with a Japanese newspaper, Kim’s murdered half-brother once identified Kim Ok as Jong Un’s biological mother; the few in the family who knew it—Uncle Jang, Aunt Kim, and Jong Nam himself—have all been murdered now. That explosive remark revealed that Jong Un was a product of his father’s extramarital affair with the 21-year-old aide at the time and was raised by his step mother, Ko Yong Hee (who was a Korean-Japanese dancer lured into North Korea and later became his father’s favorite). Like the band members who knew too much about the promiscuous life of Jong Un’s wife, Kim Ok’s father and brother were also brutally executed under Kim’s order; rumor has it that Kim Ok was either executed or imprisoned in a concentration camp.
A North Korean defector who worked at the regime’s Record and Documentation Bureau testified that the documents she handled included a hand-signed order from Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s father, that demanded political prisoners be used as live targets in the shooting range in lieu of animals, where small arms under development had been tested. This maniacal act by the North Korean tyrant, she said, made her blood boil. Her testimony made my blood boil, too.
Anyone with military training can tell how long 7 days in a boot camp feels like. For North Koreans, it was not 7 months or 7 years. They have endured 70 years in the psychopathic Kim family’s insane asylum of maniacal oppression, living their days no better than a writhing heap of maggots inside the body of a dead rat. I consider the chubby Kim’s generational tyranny to be unacceptable contempt for humanity. If the international community does not stand up to rectify this serious situation, that would mean acceptance of the contempt. The people of North Korea are too weak to break free of the statewide web of surveillance and the layers of secrecy that the regime has installed for around-the-clock oppression. If we take no action to help them out of the pit, that would mean acceptance of ourselves as being helpless and deformed beasts. Are we? I say we are not. Food is not what the ordinary North Koreans urgently need. What they desperately want is freedom and liberation from tyranny and endless persecution. North Koreans are strong enough to find ways to live on once they are freed from incarceration and totalitarian oppression. They have been waiting 70 years for the gigantic steel gate to be broken open from the outside. Yes, for 70 years.
*Max S. Kim received his PhD in cognitive science from Brandeis University and taught at the University of Washington and the State University of New York at Albany. Besides his own field of profession, he occasionally writes on regional affairs of the East Asia, including the two Koreas.