The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) is deeply concerned for the lives of nine North Korean refugees who were forcibly returned by China to North Korea.

According to multiple news reports and human rights activists, the nine people, all between the ages of 15 and 23, fled North Korea in April, traveling through China into Laos. The nine were detained by Lao authorities on May 10. Lao officials then took the unprecedented step of forcing the nine onto a plane bound for China, a clear violation of customary international law against refoulement and returning persons to situations where they may face torture. China in turn blatantly violated the Refugee Convention of 1951 and the Convention Against Torture, both of which it has ratified, by sending the nine North Korean refugees back into harm’s way in North Korea.

The government of China pursues a policy of refusing to recognize North Korean defectors as refugees, arresting them, and forcing their return to North Korea. Based on information received from North Korean defectors and other sources, the ICNK believes that such people face extremely harsh treatment upon their return, including torture and long imprisonment in labor camps where they are denied adequate food and medical services and face abuses by guards.

Since the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, succeeded his father in 2011, Pyongyang has made it even more difficult for North Koreans to leave the country. The government has tightened border controls and increased pressure for the return of refugees. Freedom of movement is a fundamental human right. Pyongyang consistently violates this right, effectively holding its people hostage.

As a result of this most recent incident, ICNK urgently advocates the following:

1)      The government of North Korea should reveal where these nine young people are, and publicly commit that it will not torture or imprison them.

2)      The government of Laos should acknowledge that its actions violated international human rights and publicly pledge to offer fleeing North Koreans temporary protection and access to seek asylum, and under no conditions return North Korean refugees to China or North Korea.

3)      The government of China should cease violating the Refugees Convention and the Convention Against Torture by refusing to recognize fleeing North Koreans as refugees and forcibly returning them to North Korea.  It should provide North Korean refugees with temporary protection and access to UNHCR as required by their international obligations and it should press North Korea to ensure that the nine North Koreans are not tortured or imprisoned.

4)      The government of South Korea should investigate in a timely way what actions its diplomatic personnel based in Vientiane took to get access and assist the nine North Koreans, and make public the findings of that investigation and any recommendations

The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea is a joint effort of over 40 human rights groups worldwidethat seeks to protect the human rights of North Koreans and to hold the Pyongyang government accountable for its abuses and violations of the human rights of the North Korean people.