"North Korea is truly the most repressive regime in the world, bar none." - Stephen Solarz
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North Korean Leadership Watch
North Korean Leadership Watch


Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of Kim Jong Il, was declared to be the leader of North Korea following the death of his father in December  2011. His father appointed him a four-star generaland vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party in September 2010. On April 11, 2012, the Workers’ Party declared Kim Jong Un to be “supreme leader”, making him the first secretary of the party's Party Secretariat, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, First Chairman of the National Defense Commission, and Chairman of the Armed Forces.
Kim Yong Nam
He was born in the Central District, Pyongyang, on February 4, Juche 17 (1928). After graduating from a university, he worked as a teacher at the Central Party School, vice department director of the WPK Central Committee, vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, and first vice department director, department director and secretary of the WPK Central Committee, vice-premier of the Administration Council and concurrently minister of Foreign Affairs. He has worked as president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly since September of Juche 87 (1998).
Choe Yong Rim
Choe Yong-nim is the DPRK Premier, appointed in June 2010. He is also a member of the CC KWP Political Bureau [Politburo] Presidium. Since 1972, he has served as a deputy [delegate] to the Supreme People’s Assembly [SPA] where he served from 2006 to 2009 as Secretary General of its Presidium [Standing Committee]. Choe’s father served in Kim Ilsong’s guerrilla unit. His ties to the Kim Family go back six decades and he has served in a number of key positions in the party and government.
Choe Ryong-hae
VMar Choe Ryong-hae (Choe Ryo’ng-hae) is director of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] General Political Bureau [GPB]. As director he is responsible for the political management (personnel decisions, surveillance, patronage) of the DPRK’s conventional military forces as well as its political education and cultural activities. Choe is a member of the 2nd revolutionary generation and knew the late supreme leader Kim Jong-il for over 50 years. Choe has numerous political and social relationships with numerous DPRK elites and has a close relationship with Kim Kyong-hui and Jang Song-taek. During the 1980s and 1990s Choe had a leading role in consolidating Kim Jong-il’s succession and building his political support and reported accomplishments as head of the Kim Il-sung Youth League.
Kim Kyung Hui
Kim Kyong-hui began her official career in 1971, with a management position in the Korean Democratic Women’s Union. She married Jang Song Taek in 1972. In 1975, she became a vice director at the KWP International Department. She was promoted to 1st vice director in 1976. In 1993 she was named department director of the KWP Economic Policy Inspection Department. Kim Kyong Hui has been a more significant public presence since her return to political life at the 12th SPA in April 2009. In 2010 Kim Kyong Hui regularly accompanied Kim Jong Il on his public appearances. On 28 September 2010, she was given the rank of KPA General, and elected a member of the CC KWP Political Bureau.
Jang Sung Taek
On 7 June 2010, Chang Song-taek was elected Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission.
Kim Won Hong
General Kim Won Hong is Minister of State Security, a member of the Korean Workers’ Party Political Bureau and member of the Party Central Military Commission [CMC]. He is also a member of the Party Central Committee and deputy to the Supreme People’s Assembly. According to DPRK state media, Gen. Kim was appointed Minister of State Security in April 2012. From 2004 to approximately 2010, Gen. Kim headed the Military Security Command [MSC], which polices, investigates and watches military officers and facilities. Gen. Kim frequently shadowed Kim Jong Il during his appearances at military bases or military-related locales within the DPRK.
Kim Gi Nam
Kim Ki Nam (Kim Ki-nam) is the Korean Workers’ Party Secretary of Publicity and Information (Propaganda) and is the DPRK’s leading official who manages the country’s media, press and culture. A former diplomatic official and academic, Kim was a close social cohort of Kim Jong Il’s. He led propaganda efforts in support of KJI’s succession to his father, Kim Il Sung, and has led similar efforts to support KJI’s successor and youngest son, Kim Jong Un.
Ri Myung Su
General Ri Myong Su (Ri Myo’ng-su) is the DPRK’s Minister of People’s Security and member of the National Defense Commission. He is also a member of the Korean Workers’ Party [KWP] Political Bureau, Central Military Commission and Central Committee. As public security minister he is responsible for the daily operational management of the country’s police and public safety forces. Ri was a military aide of the late supreme leader, Kim Jong Il.
Kim Yong Chun
VMar Kim Yong Chun (Kim Yo’ng-ch’un) is Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission and director of the KWP Civil Defense Department. He is also a member of the KWP Central Committee, its Political Bureau and the Party Central Military Commission. Kim had close social ties to the late DPRK supreme leader Kim Jong Il.
Ri Yong Mu
Vice Marshal Ri Yong Mu is Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission. He is one of the DPRK’s elder elites and the husband of one of Kim Jong Il’s aunts (on his father’s side). Vice Marshal Ri appears regularly at government and party functions and frequent rostrum member at report meetings and other official events. He was elected a member of the CC KWP Political Bureau at the 3rd Party Conference in September 2010.
O Guk Ryol
General O Kuk Ryol is a Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission. He is also a member of the Party Central Committee (CC KWP), and has been a delegate (deputy) to the SPA since 1967. Gen. O is the country’s primary manager of intelligence training and operations in East Asia, and is currently believed to head the NDC Reconnaissance Bureau.
Kim Jung Gak
VMar Kim Jong Gak (Kim Cho’ng-kak) is Minister of the People’s Armed Forces. He is responsible for the daily administration of the DPRK’s convention military forces. Kim is also a member of the National Defense Commission [NDC], a member of the KWP Political Bureau, a member of the Party Central Military Commission [CMC], member of the Party Central Committee [CC KWP] and an SPA deputy (delegate).
Hyun Yong Chol
General Hyon Chol Hae is concurrently Director of the National Defense Commission’s Standing Bureau and a deputy (vice) director of the CC KWP Organization Guidance Department. Gen. Hyon is also a member of the Party Central Committee (CC KWP) and a deputy (delegate) to the Supreme People’s Assembly. Gen. Hyon manages the general daily operations of the National Defense Commission. He also directs and coordinates Kim Jong Il’s visits to Korean People’s Army units. Due to his acumen at political management and military logistics, Gen. Hyon has been a valued military aide to Kim Il Sung and KJI.

The North Korean Leadership Watch page is adapted from Ken Gause's publication Coercion, Control, Surveillance, and Punishment: An Examination of the North Korean Police State and Michael Madden's North Korean Leadership Watch blog.

In Illicit: North Korea’s Evolving Operations to Earn Hard Curre­­ncy, Sheena Chestnut Greitens provides a detailed and thoroughly researched account of the role of illicit activities in the North Korean economy. A central conclusion of Chestnut Greitens’ analysis is that in the context of eroding state control over the licit aspects of the economy, illicit activities are also being “privatized” by North Korea’s elite.  As HRNK Co-chair and for

David Hawk interprets reports of changes in North Korea's political prison camps in his most recent report, North Korea's Hidden Gulag: Interpreting Reports of Changes in the Prison Camps. Please view the press release here. 

The newest version of Coercion, Control, Surveillance, and Punishment: An Examination of the North Korea Police State by Ken Gause, updated on May 24, 2013. 

North Korea's Camp No. 25
HRNK & DigitalGlobe, Inc.
Feb 25, 2013

For this report, DigitalGlobe Analytics examined eleven images collected from 2003 to 2013 of the North Korean political prison facility known as Camp 25 (a.k.a. Kwan-liso No. 25, Political Prison Facility No. 25, No. 25 Chongjin Political Concentration Camp, Susŏng Correctional Center) in Susŏng-dong, Ch’ŏngjin-si, Hamgyŏng-bukto, on the northeast coast of the nation. In this analysis, imagery was compared to identify changes in the organization of the camp, including variations in:

North Korea's Camp No. 22 - Update
HRNK & DigitalGlobe, Inc.
Dec 11, 2012

As a follow-up to the October 2012 joint HRNK- DigitalGlobe imagery analysis of North Korea’s Camp 22 (Kwan-li-so No. 22, Korean People’s Security Guard Unit 2209), DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center was asked to assist in identifying reported activity in and around Camp 22 in Hamgyŏng-bukto. More specifically, the Analysis Center was to examine: The outer perimeter fence, guard towers and guard positions to determine if some, or all, have been razed. The

North Korea's Camp No. 22
HRNK & DigitalGlobe, Inc.
Oct 24, 2012

During late September 2012, the North Korean activist community began reporting that the notorious political penal labor facility Camp 22 had been closed in early 2012. On October 1, 2012, in response to these reports and in partnership with the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center initiated an imagery analysis of Camp 22.

The North Korean government assigns a “songbun” status to every citizen at birth based on the perceived political loyalty of his or her family going back generations. While a small, politically loyal class in North Korea is entitled to extensive privileges, the vast majority of citizens are relegated to a permanent lower status and then discriminated against for reasons they cannot control or change.

The Hidden Gulag Second Edition
David Hawk
Apr 10, 2012

Based on extensive interviews with over 60 defectors and more than 40 satellite photos of North Korean political prisoner camps, the report calls for the dismantlement of the vast North Korean gulag system in which 150,000 to 200,000 are incarcerated.

Yoshi Yamamoto
Nov 30, 2011

TAKEN! provides an in-depth and comprehensive history and analysis of North Korea’s state-sponsored policy of abducting citizens of other countries. This criminal enterprise dates back to the earliest days of the regime, and to policy decisions made by Kim II-sung himself. Those abducted came from widely diverse backgrounds, numerous nationalities, both genders, and all ages, and were taken from placs as far away as London, Copenhagen, Zagreb, Beirut, Hong Kong, and China, in addition to Japan.

This report calls the world’s attention to the suffering of North Korean women who have become the victims of trafficking and forced marriages after escaping their country to seek a new life in China. Seventy-seven interviews with North Korean women living in China yield 52 personal accounts--life stories of women who leave their home country for survival and safety only to be purchased by Chinese men who abuse and exploit them in China. In spite of finding places to live, North Korean women ent

North Korea after Kim Jong-il: Can We Hope for Better Human Rights Protection?
Kim Kwang Jin, HRNK Non-Resident Fellow
Dec 31, 1969

North Korea today is in a state of power transition that could lead to new dangers, instability, and uncertainty.  This was not the case during the first succession.  Kim Jong-Il had been carefully groomed by his father to succeed him.  The process had gone on for twenty years and was directed by Kim Il-Sung himself. In North Korea, all political power derives from Kim Il-Sung’s reign.  At the present, North Korea refers to itself as “Kim Il-Sung’s nati

After Kim Jong II: Can We Hope for Better Human Rights Protection?
Kim Kwang Jin, HRNK Non-Resident Fellow
Dec 31, 1969

This report is part of HRNK’s “Occasional Papers,” expressing a viewpoint not necessarily representative of the Committee or its Board of Directors. Rather, this paper is written from the viewpoint of a courageous man who has seen the North Korean system from within and has participated in the workings of that system. The author knows how outcomes are produced in North Korea and which individuals are critical to the political process. Kim Kwang-jin provides an overview of the North K

This report is a sequel to the previous report, “Failure to Protect: A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in North Korea” (2006), which called for the UN Security Council to take action. The report identifies concerns with respect to human rights in North Korea. While North Korea has opened up to some international aid, their food policy and inequitable social classification system (“Songbun”) prevents large segments of the population from ever receiving food provided by i

Legal Strategies for Protecting Human Rights in North Korea
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
Dec 31, 1969

For over sixty years, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has engaged in the systematic, flagrant violation of nearly every human right recognized and protected by international law. This handbook describes the options available to human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seeking to pursue international legal action against North Korea. The international legal system offers a variety of avenues for action, which NGOs can pursue. This report explores such legal avenues, linking NG

Czech Republic President Havel, Norwegian Prime Minister Bondevik, and Nobel Peace Prize Laurate and Boston University Professor Elie Wiesel commissioned the global law firm DLA Piper LLP to work with the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, because they believed that the security threat posed by North Korea has relegated the human rights concerns in the country to a second-class status. With the unanimous adoption by the UN Security Council of the doctrine that each state has a “resp

The North Korean Refugee Crisis: Human Rights and International Response
Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland
Dec 31, 1969

Concentration on the strategic problem in the national security context is clearly warranted, yet there is another, growing dimension to the North Korean problem that poses a grave challenge: the plight of ordinary North Koreans who are denied even the most basic human rights, and those who risk their lives to escape the world’s worst nightmare, the tyranny of the Kim Jong-il regime. In this report, six experts – Stephen Haggard, Marcus Noland, Yoonok Chang, Joshua Kurlantzick, Jana Mason,