The name of the report is an ominous-sounding one: "Mapping the Fate of the Dead." And the contents of the report issued Tuesday by the Transitional Justice Working Group, a South Korean NGO, don't belie its morbid title, detailing research dedicated to human rights violations in North Korea, including killings and burials. Among the findings: the identification of nearly 320 sites used for public executions that were often witnessed by upward of a thousand people, sometimes including young children of the people put to death, the BBC reports. The identification of the sites—which included prisons and labor camps, as well as locations near schools, markets, and sports sites—was based on interviews with more than 600 defectors. The executions, which stretched back decades, were prompted by everything from murder and attempted murder to more minor infractions like stealing copper and cows.
And while one person interviewed described a cheerier atmosphere at an execution witnessed in the '60s, complete with a "festival" vibe and upbeat music, more recent state-sanctioned killings have served as a "core method of inciting fear and deterring citizens from engaging in activities deemed undesirable by the regime," per the report. Most of the executions happened by firing squads, with some of those interviewed noting that the executioners appeared to be intoxicated. "Public executions are to remind people of particular policy positions that the state has," Sarah A. Son, TJWG's research director, tells the Guardian and Reuters, which couldn't independently verify the report's accounts. "But the second and more powerful reason is it instills a culture of fear among ordinary people." (Read more North Korea stories.)