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South Korea asks China to stop repatriating North Korean defector at UN review

By Korea JoongAng Daily

January 24, 2024

South Korea asked China to stop repatriating North Korean defectors during the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on Tuesday.


“We recommend that China provides adequate protection to escapees of foreign origin, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” said Yun Seong-deok, South Korean ambassador to the UN Office in Geneva.

“We also recommend that China respect relevant international laws such as the principle of non-refoulement,” he added.

“We further recommend that China consider adopting a national refugee law as part of its efforts to implement the 1951 Refugee Convention.”

It marked the first time that South Korea addressed the issue of repatriation of North Korean defectors at the periodic review of the human rights situation in China at the council.

Human rights groups in Seoul have alleged that in addition to the repatriation of some 600 North Korean defectors from China last year, nearly 100 more have been repatriated this year.

Repatriated North Korean defectors face severe punishment, such as imprisonment at a labor camp and even execution.     

“In the past, the Korean government would raise the principle of non-refoulement, but this is the first time that it has mentioned it in the context of North Korean defectors,” said Lee Young-hwan of the Transitional Justice Working Group, a Seoul-based human rights documentation and advocacy NGO.

The Universal Periodic Review takes place every year, during which UN member countries take turns reviewing their own human rights situations, receiving other members’ recommendations, and reporting on their progress.

South Korea did not bring up the issue in the review of China in 2018.


In the 2013 review session, Korea mentioned refugee issues and the importance of China’s compliance with the principle of non-refoulement. However, it did not specifically mention the situation of North Korean defectors.

Some 600 North Koreans were reportedly repatriated from China following the Asian Games in October last year. The South Korean government confirmed the repatriations but did not verify the numbers.


Nearly 100 more North Korean defectors have been repatriated from China since, according to Hanbyun, an association of lawyers that raises awareness of human rights violations in the North.

The North Korean deputy ambassador to the UN Office in Geneva, Bang Kwang-hyuk, commended Beijing for pursuing the development of human rights “suitable to its national conditions” and said the North is convinced that China will continue a reasonable level of human rights protection.



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