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What Homicide Rates Mean in NK

Analysis team of the DailyNK  |  2012-01-27 10:12
A murder is different from other unnatural deaths in the sense that by definition, it inherently implies intent. A murder verdict is a judgment that intent existed in the mind of its perpetrator. Yet, it is possible to see those who have committed murder in two separate lights. On one hand, Ahn Joong Geun is considered a patriot in Korea for assassinating the former Resident General of Korea, Ito Hirobumi, during the Japanese colonial era; on the other, Yoo Young Cheol is regarded as sub-human for his spate of serial killings and cannibalism in 2003-2004. But no matter the justification for killing, a societys murder rate is indicative of its rate of development, public order and level of violence.

According to figures published by the UN regarding 2010 world homicide statistics, the lowest rates of homicide were recorded by developed countries, at between 0.6 and 0.9 per 100,000 people, in Japan, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. Other countries were on average between two and three times higher than those countries.

We hear a lot about random crimes in developed capitalist states and these are usually blamed on isolation and worship of the almighty dollar, but in truth the statistics show that rates in developed countries are very low.

Countries in Central and South America, and South Africa, have the highest rates in the world, often at between 30 and 70 people per 100,000. The homicide rate is also thought to be high in Africa - countries such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan have at various stages of their past been associated with mass killings - but there are no reliable statistics to measure them by.

Some Central and South American countries have in the past been scenes of countless abductions and murders carried out by their own authoritarian governments. Nowadays, the rate of such crimes carried out by the government itself has decreased, but kidnappings and murders are still a serious issue because of militant rebels, criminal gangs and the like.

Honduras is the country with the highest official murder rate in the world. Of its population of roughly 7.7 million, 82.1 per 100,000 were murdered in 2010, many of these related to drug crime. El Salvador was second, with 4,000 people amongst its population of 6.1 million becoming victims of murder in 2010. Mexicos rate, which was the highest in the world during the 1970s, has halved to 18.1 as a result of slowly developing social stability and public order.

South Koreas homicide rate, on the contrary, is increasing. From a rate of 2.0 in the 2000s, it has gradually grown to 2.9 in 2010. This puts it on par with most of Western Europe - in some cases higher- and three times higher than the rate of Japan.

Russias homicide rate is constantly decreasing and now sits at 15, whereas the US has a rate of around 5. People influenced by movies and TV shows, who hold a strong dislike of the US or are critical of its style of capitalism, such as Cambridge University Professor Chang Ha Joon, often believe that Americas murder rate is the highest in the world, but it would be more appropriate to say based on the numbers that it is among the highest of developed nations.

In North Korea, statistics on the homicide rate are unsurprisingly unavailable. A 2011 publication by Statistics Korea, the South Korean ministry of statistics, contained estimates on the life expectancy in the DPRK but nothing related to the homicide rate. It is not just one of the poorest countries in the world, where people struggle to obtain basic necessities of life, but a country which suffers from chronic maladministration and corruption. Based on the testimonies of defectors, burglaries and armed robberies are commonplace. At the lowest government level, the Peoples Unit, which usually oversees 40 to 50 homes, defectors say there are serious incidents roughly once a fortnight.

In North Korea, government abuse and malnourishment at detention facilities, public punishments and political prisons, torture by case investigators and a shoot-on-sight policy towards defectors mean that deaths from political crime are high. Considering the testimonies of defectors and what we already know about North Korea, it is certainly possible that North Koreas murder rate is as high as that of South America.

Incidentally, following Kim Jong Ils death there has been a spate of murders of Party cadres in the city of Cheongjin, which is located in North Hamgyung Province. A note was left next to one of the murder victims which read Punished in the name of the people. There was a warning and a verdict contained within that note for the government, which extracted every last drop of blood and sweat from its people during the Kim Jong Il era.

This case is of a completely different nature to petty theft, armed robberies or political abuse. The person or people who committed these murders used terrorism to fire a stern warning to the authorities of North Korea and the cadres who support the system. It was an act which tells us that a verdict has begun in the name of the North Korean people, to judge the violent administration of the DPRK.

It is not hard to find people who believe that terrorism is one avenue to obtaining an objective. Then again, others such as philosopher and author Michael Sandel would probably be critical of these murders from an ethical standpoint. Leaving ethics out of the debate though, it does not seem right for us to tell these people to respect the sanctity of life when they live under a system of extreme oppression and violence which drove them to desperate measures. At the very least, it may be fair to say that these people are dreadful realists, who responded in the only way they knew how to seize control of their own future.
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