SEOUL: The UN’s human rights envoy to North Korea on Friday urged China to stop repatriating escaped defectors to the North, where they face harsh punishment, torture or execution.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said he was “alarmed by a surge in detentions and forced repatriations of North Koreans” who are caught in China after making it across the border.
Over the past few months he had shared these concerns with the Chinese authorities, recalling their obligations under the 1951 Refugees convention as well as relevant parts of the UN system, he said.
“I urge them again to address this problem by giving special protection to DPRK [North Korea] citizens who transit through China’s territory”, he said at a press conference in Seoul.
If forcibly returned, North Korean defectors are at risk of persecution, arbitrary detention, torture or other ill-treatment, enforced disappearance and execution, according to Human Rights Watch.
“Women continue to be especially vulnerable to violent practices when they are sent back. Strip-searches, cavity inspections, verbal abuse and sexual violence are still known to happen in holding centers near the border with China,” Quintana said.
Human Rights Watch said in June, citing activists and family members, that at least 51 North Koreans had been detained in China since July last year, including a baby born in detention, four children and three elderly women in frail health.