North Korea Reportedly Enacts Shoot-On-Sight Orders for Trespassers Into Country

North Korea reportedly has enacted shoot-on-sight orders for trespassers who enter through its northern border with China and Russia, violating the nation's COVID-19 pandemic closure, the Associated Press reported.

U.N. human rights investigators are asking North Korea to respond to whether a report by digital news outlet Daily NK, that reports on issues relating to North Korea, is true. The site published a photo allegedly of a North Korean poster showing an August 2020 order that says anyone who enters the northern border through a 1- to 2-kilometer buffer zone, unauthorized, "shall be shot unconditionally."

It also says trespassers from other nations that are found in North Korean territory by the Yulu and Tumen rivers will be "shot without prior warning."

"We are concerned over the shoot-on-sight policy for unauthorized entry into the buffer zone along the northern border," said a letter posted on the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights' website from U.N. rapporteurs.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un
North Korea reportedly enacted shoot-on-sight orders for trespassers through its northern border in violation of its COVID-19 closure. Above, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before a meeting with President Donald Trump on the south side of the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), on June 30, 2019. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The August 23 letter by special rapporteurs also asked North Korea to confirm reports that it made the distribution of South Korean cultural products or sexual content punishable by death under a law adopted last December.

Daily NK published photos of a document that supposedly spells out the law, aimed at stemming out "reactionary thought and culture." The site said the law prescribes the death penalty for import or distribution of cultural contents from South Korea and other "hostile" nations such as the United States and Japan and does the same for sexual material.

The U.N. rapporteurs' letter came weeks after activists from the South Korea-based Transitional Justice Working Group asked the U.N. to press North Korea over the alleged moves.

The letter said the rapporteurs are also concerned over "the death penalty, without judicial guarantees, imposed on acts that appear to be guaranteed by international human rights law relating to the rights of freedom of opinion and expression and the right to take part in cultural life." It asked the North to provide information on the number of executions carried out under the alleged law against reactionary culture.

The letter was signed by Tomas Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea; Morris Tidball-Binz, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

North Korea has never publicly acknowledged shoot-on-sight orders or executions over consumption of capitalist cultural content, and it wasn't immediately clear whether the country would respond to the U.N. letter. The rapporteurs said they would release the reply if they received one.

Army General Robert Abrams, who was the top commander of U.S. troops in South Korea before retiring this year, told a forum last September that North Korea had put special forces along its border with China to keep out smugglers and that they had "shoot-to-kill orders in place" aimed at preventing the virus from entering the country.

Later that month, North Korean troops shot and killed a South Korean government official who was found on a makeshift raft drifting near the sea boundary between the countries. The North said its troops then burned his raft in an anti-virus step.

North Korea's northern border with China was a transit point for smuggled goods, and it was unclear whether the alleged order would apply to the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone separating the Koreas.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles affairs with the North, said Friday it couldn't confirm the reports about the North's extreme border controls and death penalties.

North Korea closed its border to nearly all traffic near the start of the pandemic last year, banned tourists and flew out diplomats and other authorized foreigners in hopes of sealing itself off from the coronavirus. It claims to have not confirmed a single case of infection, despite widespread skepticism.

North Korea and China's Shared Border
North Korea reportedly enacted shoot-on-sight orders for trespassers through its northern border in violation of its COVID-19 closure. Above, a construction site across the Tumen River, the border river between North Korea and China, in Yanbian, China's Jilin province, on September 10, 2017. Uncredited/AP Photo