Why North Korea declared its high suicide rates as an ‘act of treason’

Jun 13, 2023 7:54 AM PDT
3 minute read
north korea

Photo credit: Christian Petersen-Clausen.


Radio Free Asia reports Kim Jong Un ordered local municipalities across North Korea to take measures to keep people from killing themselves.

There was a time when North Koreans had at least one surefire way of escaping the Kim regime, but now the government in Pyongyang is trying to take that away from them too. Radio Free Asia reports Kim Jong Un has ordered local municipalities across the country to take preventative measures to keep citizens from killing themselves.

Kim’s government has officially established that suicide is an “act of treason against socialism,” and ordered emergency meetings of Korean Workers Party Committees at the provincial, city and county levels, a North Korean government official told RFA.

“Our meeting was held at the provincial party committee’s building located in Pohang district, in the city of Chongjin,” he said. “The large number of suicide cases in the province was revealed and some officials… could not hide their anxious expressions.”

The anti-suicide campaign in the North comes as South Korean intelligence operations show suicide rates in North Korea rose 40% year over year. Kyongsong County, where the anonymous government official who spoke to RFA works, has seen 35 suicide cases this year so far, with some incidences where entire families chose to end their lives en masse.

Perhaps the worst part for the Kim regime is that the suicide notes these victims leave behind are often critical of the North Korean communist system. The people who attended meetings across the country were told that suicide has a greater societal impact, greater even than the rampant starvation that has crippled the countryside.

A man walks past a television screen showing a news report about the latest North Korean missile launch with images of the North's leader, Kim Jong Un, along a pedestrian walkway in Tokyo on November 3, 2022. (Photo by Richard A. Brooks / AFP) (Photo by RICHARD A. BROOKS/AFP via Getty Images)

“Attendees [of a meeting in Ryanggang province] were shocked by the disclosure of suicide notes that criticized the country and the social system,” said another government official who spoke to RFA on the condition of anonymity. He added that, despite Kim’s prevention policies, officials at the meeting could not come up with a solution.

“Most of the suicides were caused by severe poverty and starvation, so no one can come up with a countermeasure right now,” he said.

In Hyesan, a 10-year-old boy and his grandmother took rat poison to end their lives after the boy’s parents died of starvation. An elderly couple in the mountains of a northeastern province hung themselves together in a tree. Another family of four ate a final meal together before ingesting potassium cyanide.

The new suicide prevention order does nothing to address the actual poverty that causes mass suicide. Instead, it places the responsibility for prevention on local officials, who will then be held accountable when they occur. Pyongyang emphasized that “suicide is a clear social challenge and treason against the country.”

Though news from the North is hard to find, especially in terms of widespread trends, experts believe food insecurity is at its worst since the 1994 famine that killed an estimated 600,000 to more than a million people. It has always struggled to feed its own people, but its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, where it shut down its borders to self-isolate has only exacerbated the problem.

The regime’s steadfast dedication to its nuclear program isn’t helping matters. Since it refuses to budge an inch on nuclear disarmament, food and other kinds of aid from foreign countries is not likely to see their way into North Korea. Also exacerbating the problem is North Korea’s adherence to its strict form of Stalinist communism, which has failed to bring agricultural production to meet even the most basic human needs of its population.

For average North Koreans, many think suicide appears to be the best way out, leaving the misery of life in a failed state behind while taking a few parting shots at the door.


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