U.N. Panel Faults China on North Korean Refugees
By AUSTIN RAMZY
The United Nations panel that compiled an extensive report on human rights abuses in North Korea and warned its leader, Kim Jong-un, that he could face charges for crimes against humanity, also had some criticism of the country’s only major ally, China.
The report by the panel to the United Nations Human Rights Council on said Monday that the Chinese government had declined to allow investigators access to areas of northeastern China where large numbers of North Koreans live and work.
Analysts have also noted that China’s position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council would allow it to block efforts to bring a case against North Korea to the International Criminal Court.
“China maintains that differences in human rights should be handled through constructive dialogue and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said Monday at a regularly scheduled news briefing.“To bring human right issues to the International Criminal Court does not help improve a country’s human rights conditions.”
The voluminous documentation of the panel’s report was focused on the responsibility of Mr. Kim’s government, but it also outlined areas where it said Beijing was failing to meet its responsibility to refugees under international law. The report stated:
Despite the gross human rights violations awaiting repatriated persons, China pursues a rigorous policy of forcibly repatriating citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who cross the border illegally. China does so in pursuance of its view that these persons are economic (and illegal) migrants. However, many such nationals of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should be recognized as refugees fleeing persecution or refugees sur place. They are thereby entitled to international protection. In forcibly returning nationals of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China also violates its obligation to respect the principle of non-refoulement under international refugee and human rights law. In some cases, Chinese officials also appear to provide information on those apprehended to their counterparts in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“We totally cannot accept this accusation,” Ms. Hua told reporters on Tuesday when asked about the panel’s assertion that China was wrongly returning refugees, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
China is the main conduit for the more than 20,000 North Koreans who have fled to South Korea over the past two decades. The Chinese government considers them economic migrants who should be subject to return to North Korea. And while some do cross the border for purposes of work and trade, many others do it to stay alive amid deprivation and political oppression in their homeland. They can be subject to imprisonment and torture upon their return, as the report documents.
North Koreans in China have said that some of Mr. Kim’s recent moves have unsettled their compatriots, according to reports in The Los Angeles Times and The Asahi Shimbun of Japan. They say the execution of Mr. Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, a top official well known to most North Korean citizens, has raised fears of instability and increased pressure to defect.
“People are scared,” an unidentified North Korean woman told The Los Angeles Times in an interview in the Chinese town of Yanji, near the North Korean border.“If he could do this to his own uncle, what would he do to the rest of us?”