Nine North-Korean defectors, aged 15 to 23, entered Laos through China on May 9 and were caught by Laotian authorities on May 16. They were sent back home on Tuesday May 28 via China. Under North Korean law, defectors face a minimum of five years of hard labour and as much as life in prison or the death penalty in cases deemed particularly serious.
UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, urged Chinese and Laotian authorities to publicly clarify the fate of the nine defectors and the conditions of their return, which apparently violated international law, UN deputy spokesperson said.
In a press release, the UNHCR said that
We are extremely concerned for the protection of this group, which includes up to five minors, who are at risk of severe punishment and ill-treatment upon their return.
We are dismayed that the Governments of Laos and China appear to have abrogated their non-refoulement obligations, especially given the vulnerability of this group, all of whom are reported to be orphans.
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.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Marzuki Darusman, expressed his extreme concern for the protection of the nine defectors from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“The status and whereabouts of this group, many of them children, is currently not known,” Mr. Darusman said, “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.
“No one should be refouled 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 the DPRK authorities to show transparency and give the group access to an independent actor who could determine their status and wellbeing.
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 upon those repatriated from abroad.
Separately the UN Human Rights Council has appointed a commission of inquiry to probe and further document “the grave, systematic and widespread violations of human rights and possible crimes against humanity in North Korea.”