ANI Photo | China’s repatriation of North Korean defectors, a way of supporting Pyongyang’s authoritarian rule: Experts

Human rights experts have resisted China’s latest claims that North Koreans fleeing into China are not political refugees but only illegal migrants seeking economic opportunities, emphasising that it is a way of supporting Pyongyang’s authoritarian system, which is similar to China does, as reported by Voice of America (VOA).
Earlier this week, China claimed that North Koreans fleeing to China are not political refugees but only illegal migrants seeking economic opportunities.
“There (are) no so-called DPRK defectors in China. People who illegally entered into China for economic reasons are not refugees,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday at a press briefing.
His statement came after South Korea called on Beijing to protect North Korean defectors in China during a Tuesday UN meeting examining China’s rights records, according to VOA.
Notably, the meeting held in Geneva was the fourth review by the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group since February 2009.
South Korea’s ambassador to the UN office in Geneva, Yun Seong-deok, highlighted that Beijing should stop repatriating North Koreans.
He further said that Beijing should consider making its refugee law comply with the 1951 Refugee Convention.
This was the first time South Korea addressed China at the UPR for its treatment of North Korean defectors.
Reportedly, they face harsh treatment, including torture and death sentences, when they are forcibly repatriated, according to Human Rights Watch and the advocacy group Liberty in North Korea.
China is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, highlighting that Beijing is obligated to comply with the principle of nonrefoulement.
This “asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom,” as per the convention.
According to China’s constitution, it “may grant asylum to foreigners who request it on political grounds,” VOA reported.
William Nee, a research and advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, emphasised that China has been consistently refusing to set up a screening system.
“China has consistently refused to set up a screening system” in coordination with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees “to determine whether North Koreans who have fled to China qualify as refugees,” he said.
“Unfortunately, since the Chinese and DPRK governments share the same Leninist system, it is highly unlikely that China would admit that there are political defectors in North Korea because this could indirectly cast doubt on the CCP’s own system,” he added.
Notably, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been China’s ruling party since the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949.
China and North Korea rooted their government systems in communist ideology espoused by the former Soviet Union’s first leader, Vladimir Lenin, who ruled the country with dictatorship and severe control of its population, as reported by VOA.
Robert King, who served as the US special envoy for North Korea’s human rights in the Obama administration said that Beijing refers to North Korean defectors as “economic migrants” because, in its view, North Koreans want to take advantage of its economy.
He further said that China is “not willing to admit that North Koreans may want to leave North Korea and go to South Korea or elsewhere” because that would suggest there is a problem in North Korea’s political system and pose “concern for communism.”
King stressed that this is a way to protect China’s own authoritarian government and support its restrictions on freedom, human rights and information so that it can “maintain control” of people and power.
Recently, Wang Wenbin, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said that Beijing “advocated the protection and promotion of human rights through security,” following its own “development path” based on “the socialist nature of China’s human rights cause.”
Meanwhile, Roberta Cohen, former deputy assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Carter administration, stated that China has been fearing being held complicit in North Korea’s crimes against humanity.
“China fears being held complicit in North Korea’s crimes against humanity, against North Koreans who escape the country,” Cohen said.
“China’s denial of the situation is an effort to ward off international criminal charges that could well be levelled one day,” she added.
A 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry report on North Korea’s human rights conditions highlighted that the regime’s acts, including murder, torture and enslavement, are tantamount to crimes against humanity, as reported by VOA.
Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, said that for China to consider North Korean defectors as refugees, it would have to honour its obligation under the 1951 Convention “instead of engaging in blatant breaches of these international human rights instruments it ratified.” (ANI)

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