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Kim Jong Un wants low-key birthday, people to fill manure quotas

This undated picture released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un posing with soldiers.KCNA via KNS/AFP/AFP

TOKYO — What do you get a young totalitarian dictator for his birthday? Well, not a frat boy comedy that revolves around an assassination plot. Kim Jong Un already has one of those with Sony Pictures’ ‘‘The Interview.’’

And not a serenade from a pierced basketball star. North Korea’s ‘‘Great Successor’’ got that last year when Dennis Rodman sang happy birthday to him on a basketball court in Pyongyang, in a scene that could easily have come out of the aforementioned film.

So what do you get the tyrant who has everything? Well, how about a huge pile of manure? That, apparently, is what Kim wants for his birthday on Thursday, which is turning out to be a more low-key affair than usual.


It’s not clear whether Kim, the third generation leader of the world’s only communist dynasty, was born in 1982 or 1983, but it is known that he was born on Jan. 8 in one of those years.

And leaders’ birthdays are a big deal in North Korea. ‘‘Eternal President’’ Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15 and Kim Jong Il’s birthday on Feb. 16 are national holidays and are celebrated with great fanfare. For the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birthday in 2012, entire buildings were built in Pyongyang.

But Kim Jong Un has apparently taken things down a notch this year. Workers won’t even get the day off, but have instead been mobilized to fill compost quotas, according to the Daily NK, a South Korean news site with sources inside North Korea.

Each January, the Kim regime orders citizens to procure substantial volumes of manure, and failure to meet quotas can lead to harsh punishments.

‘‘This makes it likely that workers at factories and homemakers alike will be out collecting manure from as many sources as they can on the 8th,’’ the Daily NK reported.


Human Rights Watch has a different idea for the perfect birthday gift for Kim: a referral to the International Criminal Court.

‘‘Justice for the crimes against humanity committed by the North Korean government is long overdue,’’ said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.

A push is underway at the United Nations to refer Kim and his cronies to the ICC over a decades-long litany of abuses including executions, torture, political imprisonment and infanticide.

‘‘The continued brutality of Kim Jong Un’s rule has put to rest any fiction he might moderate the country’s repression,’’ Robertson said. ‘‘These systematic and pervasive human rights abuses are now, finally, at the center stage of the international community’s agenda for action.’’

Even if he is never hauled to The Hague, a referral to the ICC sure would be a memorable present for any 32-year-old, or 33-year-old for that matter.

Related coverage:

• Opinion: To Pyongyang, nothing is funny about ‘The Interview’

• N. Korea leader open to talks with Seoul

• North Korea mocks Obama, faults US for Internet attack

• UN Security Council to examine North Korean human rights

Fifield is The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.