Human Traffic Watch

Human Rights of North Korean Defectors in Dire Straits

In Awareness, Human Trafficking on September 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Dadong, North Korea. Image by Joseph A Ferris III/Flickr.

On August 3rd, South Korean human rights activist Kim Young-hwan and three colleagues held a press conference accusing Chinese authorities of detainment and torture due to their work with North Korean refugees. China has denied the allegations.

The activists were staying in Dalien, a major city in the southern Chinese province of Liaoning, assisting North Korean defectors and raising awareness of the dire human rights situation in North Korea (the original cause for their arrest). Mr. Kim said that he and his colleagues were beaten and tortured with electricity for “threatening the national security of China,” that both the Chinese and the North Korean governments were clandestinely engaged in their arrest and torture, and that the Chinese government intentionally delayed a consulate meeting.

Torture and harsh treatment for human rights activists such as Kim Young-hwan – who is a former supporter of North Korea’s first leader Kim Il-sung, but later became disillusioned with the regime’s absolutism and human rights abuses – highlight the tensions between South Korea and China as well as the ill treatment of North Korean defectors by the Chinese government.

Key Conclusions

North Korean refugees are facing a dire situation in many neighboring countries in Asia. Some countries are reluctant to grant refugee status for economic reasons and China adamantly enforces a bilateral agreement with North Korea to deny so-called “defectors” refugee status in China.

Absent such status, North Korean defectors are considered illegal immigrants and are frequently sent back to North Korea, where they face serious punishment. Keen to avoid repatriation, North Korean refugees desperately look for alternatives. The risks are particularly severe for women who regularly become victims of forced marriage, forced labor, and prostitution.

Neighboring countries, in particular China, should therefore urgently meet their obligations under international treaties and grant refugee status to defectors from North Korea to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

Source: ISN Blog

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