An independent United Nations human rights expert said today he is extremely concerned for the protection of nine defectors from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), mostly minors and reportedly all orphans, who are believed to have been sent back to China after being arrested while crossing into Laos.
“The status and whereabouts of this group, many of them children, is currently not known,” said Marzuki Darusman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in DPRK, “but I have very real concerns about the penalties and treatment they could face if returned to DPRK, and all the concerned authorities have an urgent responsibility to ensure their protection.”
The nine orphans were reportedly arrested by the Laotian police while crossing the Laos-China border and sent back to China on 27 May, according to a news release issued by the UN human rights office.
“I am extremely disappointed that the Laos Government appears to have abdicated its protection responsibilities in this way, and I urge the Chinese authorities not to do the same,” said Mr. Darusman.
“No one should be refouled [sent back] to DPRK where they may face persecution or severe punishment, including torture and the death penalty,” the Special Rapporteur underscored.
If the group has already been returned to DPRK, Mr. Darusman appealed to authorities in Pyongyang to show transparency and give the group access to an independent actor who could determine their status and well-being.
In successive resolutions on DPRK, the UN General Assembly has expressed serious concern about the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers expelled or returned to DPRK and the sanctions imposed on those repatriated from abroad.
Like all special rapporteurs appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, Mr. Darusman works in an independent and unpaid capacity. Currently, he also serves on the three-member commission of inquiry set up by the Council to investigate alleged human rights violations in DPRK.