Mapping crimes against humanity in North Korea: Mass graves, killing sites and documentary evidence (July 2017) [EN/ES/KO]


Executive Summary

“International norms and standards require that those responsible for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in particular for crimes against humanity, be held accountable.”

This report presents the initial findings of our project, “Mapping Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea” (the Mapping Project), which identifies locations of suspected mass burial sites, killing sites and possible sites containing documentary evidence linked to crimes against humanity in North Korea. In support of the international push for accountability for decades of systematic human rights abuses, it contains maps and numbers on these three categories of sites, based on two years of interviews with 375 former residents of North Korea.

The Mapping Project records specific location coordinates for sites identified that may contain evidence connected to human rights abuses that are within the scope of our inquiries. Using publicly-available Google Earth satellite imagery, the research participants identify the locations and key features of the sites types. The coordinates and associated testimonial data are then categorised and used to create visual maps.

The maps and the accompanying testimonies create a picture of the scale of the abuses that have taken place over decades. Certain patterns in the abuses are also emerging, even at this early stage of the research process. Our initial research indicates that burial sites are often located in mountainous areas, away from residential areas, but may also be found in parts of common cemeteries and around prisons. Killing sites tend to be found in river beds, market places, near bridges, facilities for detention and imprisonment, and sports fields. Although it is beyond our current capabilities to investigate and analyse the sites due to lack of access, this research is a crucial first step in the pursuit of accountability for human rights crimes. It is also designed to serve first responders 3 who may enter North Korea in the future. Part of our work involves looking into rapidly advancing remote sensing (RS) technologies, designed to detect and enhance analysis of sites containing human remains, for future application in North Korea.

The report also contains selected findings from a survey of North Korean defectors. This survey gathers defector opinions on key accountability mechanisms, including bringing charges against perpetrators of human rights abuses, the adoption of truth-seeking mechanisms, the provision of reparations for victims, and the investigation and exhumation of mass grave sites in North Korea, among other potential measures.