North Korea carried out public executions of nearly 1,400 people over 15 years since 2000, a report by a South Korean think tank showed Wednesday, pointing to the North's dismal human rights records.


The number of North Koreans who were executed publicly reached a cumulative 1,382 between 2000 and 2014, according to the white paper on the North's human rights, released by the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification.

The institute said that such cases of public execution had been compiled based on testimonies by North Korean defectors between 2008 and 2014. The actual number of public executions is presumed to be higher.

The report said that since the number of such victims peaked at 161 in 2008, it has been largely on the decline with 82 in 2013 and five in 2014. Despite the slowdown, the figures represent a severe violation of human rights in the North, it added.

"The North claimed that it has handed down capital punishment in very limited cases, but it has carried out executions in cases of a wide range of crimes," the report said.

It said that it is "noticeable" that in recent years, the North has killed those who were caught after watching and distributing DVDs of South Korean dramas or films that had been smuggled in from the outside. Execution for drug smugglers has also increased, the report added.

North Korea has long been regarded as one of the worst human rights violators. Pyongyang has bristled at such criticism, calling it a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

In late 2013, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the execution of his once-powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek. The North's former defense chief Hyun Yong-chol is believed to have been executed in April for his disloyalty toward Kim.

North Korea's rights situation was in spotlight as the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) last year unveiled a report that accused Pyongyang of "systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights."

   In a related move, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution in December that calls for the U.N. Security Council to refer the North's rights situation to the International Criminal Court.

North Korea has sharpened its flak against South Korea as the U.N. has recently set up its field office tasked with monitoring the North's human rights records in Seoul. Pyongyang vowed retaliation against South Korea over the opening of the U.N. office.

The report showed that it is easy to find grave violations of human rights such as violence and torture at detention centers in the North.

North Korea has denied the existence of political prison camps, claiming that the country only maintains labor camps as correctional facilities for criminals.

The North is presumed to operate five prison camps nationwide, which are holding in captivity some 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, the report showed. (Yonhap News)