North Korea's Kim convenes conference for strengthening 'monolithic' party rule

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un convened an unprecedented conference aimed at strengthening the ruling Workers' Party of Korea's (WPK) "monolithic" leadership across society, state media reported on Thursday.

The conference was the first of its kind and involved "realizing the organizational and ideological consolidation of the Party ranks in every way" and enhancing the party's leadership role, state news agency KCNA said.

The event focused on the "Party Life Guidance" (PLG) sections, which are powerful organisations that monitor and police loyalty of officials and members across the country.

According to a 2019 report by the U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), party life guidance is "arguably the most critical function" of the WPK, which is the founding and ruling party of North Korea.

As part of the powerful Organization and Guidance Department, PLG monitors trends and patterns in individual behaviour, particularly those that may harm the interests of the supreme leader, the HRNK report said.

Its techniques include regular self-criticism sessions, where participants are required to confess their wrongdoings and face accusations from other members. It is also responsible for passing on guidance from senior leaders and plays a role in selecting which candidates are allowed to run in elections.

In remarks to the conference, Kim called party life guidance a "blood vessel and nerve gland" that firmly link party organisations with the central committee, and the main axis of implementing ideas and policies of the party, KCNA reported.

Kim has increasingly held events aimed at strengthening control in the country, which he has ruled since 2011. Experts said anti-pandemic efforts have further helped his authoritarian government impose new controls on the economy, travel, media and other elements of society.

According to human rights investigators, North Korea has conducted extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence and forced labour. The government has denied mistreating its citizens.

North Korea is grappling with multiple crises, including its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak, the economic effects of international sanctions and erratic weather events such as high temperatures and floods.

It said it has the COVID-19 situation under control, though a lack of data has led international experts to doubt the claims.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Christopher Cushing)