UN criticizes China for deporting NK defectors

November 20, 2015

By Yi Whan-woo

The United Nations condemned China for forcibly repatriating North Korean defectors even though they will face the risk of persecution on their return, South Korean officials said Thursday.

Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the U.N.’s Committee Against Torture (CAT) proposed that China become more transparent in safeguarding asylum seekers from North Korea during its review this week of Beijing’s efforts to end torture within its borders.

“CAT has not disclosed any further details. But it’s apparent that the U.N. wants China to be more active in joining international efforts against Pyongyang’s state-perpetrated human rights violations,” a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

The Voice of America reported that CAT questioned whether China is faithfully implementing the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

China is one of the 158 member states to sign the U.N. Convention that took effect in 1987.

CAT, which operates under the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, assesses efforts being made by each of the 158 countries in line with the Convention every four year since they ratified the treaty.

The Chinese parliament ratified the U.N. treaty in 1988. South Korea did so in 1995, while North Korea has still not signed it.

Meanwhile, Beijing reiterated its claim that North Korean defectors are “illegal immigrants.”

In a report submitted to CAT, China said the North Koreans have been crossing the border since the 1990s “due to the slow economic development, food shortage and other factors.”

Arguing that such an entrance disrupts “public order in border regions of China,” Beijing added it does not recognize those defectors as refugees in accordance with the U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in 1951.

It also expressed concerns that North Korean escapees may exploit “non-refoulement,” a principle of the U.N. law that bans refugees from being sent back to their homeland.

The 1951 U.N. Convention states refugees as people who cannot return to their homeland due to fears of being persecuted for “reasons of race, religion, nationality and membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Those granted refugee status have a right to seek shelter in a country where they are staying.

The U.N.’s review of China’s efforts to end torture and other human rights violations came after it was learned, Wednesday, that nine North Korean defectors have been detained by the Chinese authorities and face possible deportation to North Korea. They include a child and its parents.

This is seen as Beijing being cooperative with Pyongyang to improve ties.

An estimated 120,000 people, including unsuccessful defectors, are thought to be detained at political prison camps operated by North Korea.

The U.N. has been stepping up efforts against the Kim Jong-un regime to improve its dire human rights record.

For instance, the U.N. General Assembly has passed a resolution against Pyongyang’s human rights conditions for consecutive years since 2005.