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China has been advised against returning those who have fled from North Korea.
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China has been advised against returning those who have fled from North Korea.

Numerous escapees, mostly women, have been returned despite multiple pleas from various international human rights organizations, causing concern amongst experts. Additionally, it is reported that hundreds more are currently detained and face the same outcome.

On Tuesday, it was stated that individuals returning to North Korea, also known as the DPRK, may be subjected to severe human rights abuses such as torture or cruel and degrading treatment. These reports have been ongoing and are considered reliable.

‘Criminals’ and ‘traitors’ 

The North Korean government refers to individuals as “criminals” if they engage in “illegal border-crossing” and as “traitors” if any evidence suggests their intent to escape to the Republic of Korea, also known as South Korea.

The experts have cautioned that individuals labeled as “traitors” may face severe consequences such as being imprisoned without fair legal proceedings, and may even be at risk of forced disappearance or execution.

They stated that it is unacceptable to send someone back to a nation where they could be subjected to torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, or other irreversible damage, such as the death penalty or forced disappearance.

Respect international law 

The experts on human rights called on China to adhere to the principle of non-refoulement, which ensures that no individual is sent back to a nation where they may be subjected to torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, or other forms of severe harm.

It was emphasized that this principle is protected by international law and must be enforced for all people, regardless of their status as migrants.

They remembered that it is also a vital safeguard in accordance with international laws on human rights, refugees, humanitarianism, and customary practices. It is specifically mentioned in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as the 1951 Convention on Refugees and its accompanying Protocol, both of which China has ratified.

The United Nations experts sent a letter to Beijing expressing their worries about the forced repatriation, and acknowledged the response from the authorities.

The group urged China to honor its international legal commitments and refrain from forcefully returning any remaining North Korean defectors.

They expressed their approval of the border being reopened and encouraged the DPRK to permit UN agencies, humanitarian organizations, and diplomatic missions to come back to the country promptly. They also urged the relevant Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council to conduct a review of the country’s human rights situation.

The DPRK was urged to adhere to its responsibilities under international law regarding the repatriation of all individuals, including the strict prohibition of torture and enforced disappearances, the ban on arbitrary imprisonment, and the assurance of fair trial rights.

Elizabeth Salmón, Special Rapporteur on the situation on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation in the country (file).

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Elizabeth Salmón, an expert appointed to monitor human rights in North Korea, presents an update on the country’s status to the Security Council.

About UN experts

The statement was released by 18 specialists who were selected by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. One of the members is Elizabeth Salmón, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea.

These are included in the category of the Council’s Special Procedures, which encompasses its autonomous systems for investigating and overseeing particular country situations or universal topics across the globe.

These professionals volunteer their services and operate separately from any government or group, serving in their own personal capacity.

The source is the United Nations’ website.