North Korea is the most secretive state on the planet.
A report compiled by the United Nations in 2014 found that there are, “unspeakable atrocities… being committed against inmates in political prison camps that resemble to horrors of camps that totalitarian States established during the twentieth century.”
The crimes against humanity being perpetrated by North Korea entail, “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution… the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons… and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation,” the report said.
The United Nations estimated that between 80,000 and 120,000 people are currently imprisoned in political prison camps and, “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”
And that is just what we know.
But at a historical moment when North Korea’s leader – the second youngest head of state in the world – is testing powerful nuclear bombs, it’s time to ask; what do we actually know about Kim Jong-un? What are the myths that North Korea perpetuate about the third leader in the Kim dynasty? Who is the man behind one of the most bizarre personality cults in history?
The year of Kim’s birth is widely contested. He was thought to be born in 1982, but a number of reports suggest this was retrospectively changed for symbolic reasons. Recently Kim listed his official date of birth as January 8, 1984, making him 33 years old.
According to a number of witnesses, Kim attended school in Gümligen near Bern, in Switzerland. Although reports say he largely kept to himself, a former classmate told The Mirror, “He was funny… Always good for a laugh.”
For the first 20 years of Kim’s life, he was almost entirely absent from public or government service and was barely photographed. In 2010, Kim was made a daejang – which is equal to a four-star general in the United States, despite never having had any military experience. This was also the first time North Korea mentioned him by name.
Kim was the least qualified in the Kim dynasty to lead a country. His father, Kim Jong-Il, had held off providing him with any formal military or service training as he was concerned power would transfer from him to his imminent successor.
Thus, Kim inherited an active military personnel of over one million, along with almost six million paramilitary officers, with unlimited access to nuclear weapons, without having even one day of military experience.
When Kim Jong-Il died in 2011, Kim Jong-un took over ahead of his older brother, Kim Jong Chol, who his father had labelled "effeminate" and unequipped to be a leader. According to The Australian, his other sibling, Kim Jong Nam was ineligible for two reasons. Firstly, because he had said negative things about the current regime, and secondly because of an incident in 2001, where he was arrested at Narita International Airport in Japan for attempting to enter the country with a false passport. He was intending to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
Following the death of Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-un ordered that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea grieve. It is reported that Kim policed public mourning so scrupulously that when deputy defence minister Kim Chol appeared to be "insufficiently grieving" during his father's funeral, he was imprisoned.
Kim was 30 years old (we believe) when he inherited the position of Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, making him the youngest head of state in the world.
It had been widely reported that when Kim discovered his uncle Jang Song-thaek had been spending foreign currency at casinos, dining illegally in restaurants, engaging in extra-marital affairs, and "dreaming alternative dreams," he had him executed by the Ministry of State Security firing squad as punishment.
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In 2012, Kim specially hand-picked North Korea's first all-female pop band, The Moranbong Band. They have been referred to by Forbes magazine as "North Korea's version of the Spice Girls".
Kim, unlike his predecessors, has great interest in American culture, and owns an extensive Nike trainer collection. He has also long been a basketball fan, now counting NBA-star Dennis Rodman among his best friends. Rodman visited Kim in North Korea in 2013 and again in 2014, and it is alleged that the basketballer was investigated by the US Treasury Department for accepting millions of dollars worth of luxury gifts from the leader.
South Korean newspapers report that Kim underwent plastic surgery in order to more closely resemble his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. The Dong-A Ilbo, a South Korean publication, says Kim intentionally gained weight, and had a number of cosmetic procedures in order to inspire a, "reincarnation of North Korea's late founder" and boost his popularity among the public.
You can read more by Jessie Stephens, here.