One day after an independent United Nations human rights expert said he was extremely concerned for the protection of nine defectors from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the group has apparently been returned to the country.
“We have received credible information that the nine young North Korean defectors were subsequently returned to DPRK via China,” the spokesperson for the UN human rights office (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva.
Mr. Colville added that OHCHR was “extremely concerned” about the protection of the group members “who are at risk of severe punishment and ill-treatment upon their return.”
The UN human rights office was dismayed that the Governments of Laos and China appear to have abrogated their non-refoulement obligations, especially given the vulnerability of the group, Mr. Colville said.
According to the principle of non-refoulement, no State party to the Convention “shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
“We urge the Chinese and Laotian authorities to publicly clarify the fate of the nine young North Koreans, as well as the conditions under which they were returned and request the Government of DPRK to provide immediate access to the group by independent actors to verify their status and treatment,” Mr. Colville told the press.
All nine defectors are reportedly orphans. Up to five of them could be minors. The group had reportedly been arrested by the Laotian police while crossing the Laos-China border and sent back to China on 27 May.
In a statement yesterday, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, said that “no one should be refouled to the DPRK” where members of the group may face torture and the death penalty.
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.