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One Rule for One, One for Others

In December 2013, it was widely reported that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un mercilessly ordered the execution of his once-powerful uncle for acts of treachery. His alleged crimes ranged from corruption and womanising to 'factionalist filth' injurious to the stability of the State. It is no surprise that the latter charge which according to the State media amounted to threatening the legitimacy of the Kim dynasty and its right to rule was considered by the ruling elite as treasonous; a crime punishable by a term of life imprisonment in a political concentration camp or by death as in the case of Jang Song Thaek, Kim's uncle. However, usually in North Korea, the punishment does not end there.

As part of the North Korean judicial process, the principle of 'guilt by association' or yeon-jwa-jwe is often applied in the conviction of defendants such as Jang. In effect, up to three generations of his family would be considered tainted by association with him. Hence, his wife, his children and grandchildren, or put another way, Kim Jong Un's paternal aunt, his first and second cousins, all blood relatives of his would be deemed to some degree or other equally culpable of his crimes. They would therefore be liable to a stretch of incarceration in a prison camp, if not similarly put to death. This edict was promulgated by Kim's own grandfather, who in a speech in 1972 ordered that the 'seed of the offender, up to three generations had to be removed from the rest of society to prevent contamination'.

However, paradoxically, if the principle were applied as ruthlessly as it has been in the past, Jang's nephew, Kim Jong Un by virtue of his close familial relation to his uncle would likewise not have escaped censure! If not sentenced to a term of incarceration, Kim's family line (he, his wife and other close relatives and associates) would most certainly be designated as belonging to the 'hostile' class of North Korean citizens; a family to be watched and monitored, with any suspicions catalogued and reported to the State secret police, the National Security Agency. This class of people belonging to the lowest rung of the three-tiered North Korean society are denied basic opportunities available to others such as ready access to food and other amenities. This makes life unbearably difficult especially in times of famine and drought where the meagre rations available are reserved for the use of the elite classes and the military. Other fundamental human rights such as the right to travel, to health and to an education are also severely restricted.

In addition, for this group which roughly makes up a third of North Korean society, mundane activities such as idle gossip, attending an underground church, possession of a Bible, listening to South Korean radio broadcasts, watching smuggled foreign DVDs or simply failing to keep the household portrait of the ruling family free from dust are dangerous. Accusations of such would most likely result in summary detention without the opportunity of a defence in a fair trial.

However, it appears this cruel principle does not apply within the Kim family itself.

See below the latest Amnesty International press advertisement highlighting the spectre of prison camps in North Korea.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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