By Andrew Oota
A North Korean activist who fled his country at age 17, Ilhyeok Kim,has criticized China after reports emerged that the Chinese government allegedly willy-nilly returned more than 500 North Korean defectors.
Kim who gave a speech at the United Nations Security Council meeting held in August in a chat with this reporter via telephone on Friday said that defectors sent back to North Korea were made to face series of punishments including forced labor, imprisonment, torture, or execution.
The North Korean defector who currently resides in South Korea called on the Republic of China to uphold its obligations as a permanent member of the United Nations.
According to him, China subscribed to the 1982 Refugee Convention which prohibits the expulsion or return of refugees to places where their lives or freedom may be threatened. Moreover, Kim said that China also signed the 1988 Convention Against Torture banning expulsion and return to countries where there is a risk of torture.
Emphasis on the fact North Korean defectors are recognized as refugees under these international law was made by Kim , he however bemoaned that the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge them as such which he claimed is obviously in violation of international law.
When deported, Kim disclosed that defectors are often subjected to forced labour in re-education camps or correctional facilities, where they barely survive while enduring harsh treatments.
“In many cases, they are taken to political prisoner camps and never get to see the outside world again, even until death. Even worse, some might face public executions by way of exemplary punishment to the public. One of the serious offenses in North Korea is called a “betrayal of the party and the homeland” which can lead to a public execution, serving as violent means by the party to force loyalty to the regime”, he added.
The Alleged Forced Repatriation is in contrast to the Mutual aid and cooperation treaty which the China Authority ratified with North Korea since 1961, Kim noted further.
In Spite of international condemnation, Kim lamented that the China Government has continued to ignore the human rights agreement it signed.
Kim called on the South Korean government and international community;
“The remaining 2,000 or so North Korean refugees who are at imminent risk of forced repatriation by the Chinese regime should be allowed to reach any places on their own will. The approximately 600 defectors who have already been repatriated likely face severe realities.
“The South Korean government and the international community must collaborate to ensure that the remaining North Korean defectors in China can find freedom. If we do not make efforts and simply stand by, many innocent people will die while gazing at the same sky we see. North Korean refugees can live one more ordinary day like.