A U.N. human rights official says that while the reopening of North Korea’s borders is a welcome development as Pyongyang eases its COVID-19 controls, there are also concerns, including ‘the imminent risk’ of forced repatriation of North Koreans detained in other countries.
U.N. special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in North Korea Elizabeth Salmón told reporters on Tuesday that U.N. officials “have regularly raised concerns with China and other Member States” about the “real risk of torture” and “other serious human rights violations” North Korean defectors would face after being sent back to the North.
Salmón said female escapees are subject to invasive body searches aimed at searching for money smuggled into the country hidden in their private parts.
“We know that at this moment, there are some unfortunate repatriations ongoing,” said Salmón, adding she hopes the Chinese government can “find a solution” with the U.N. human rights officials.“I am very alert, and ready to raise my voice.”
Seoul has urged Beijing to send North Korean escapees held in China to South Korea, instead of repatriating them.
China considers North Koreans entering its country as illegal immigrants rather than refugees, arresting them when caught, and then sending them back to North Korea, where they are treated as traitors.
Currently, China is reportedly detaining as many as 2,000 North Korean defectors.
Salmón visited Seoul from September 4-12, meeting with officials from the South Korean government, North Korean defectors, and human rights groups. A report of her findings will be submitted to UN General Assembly in October.
The linkage of human rights and “peace and security” would be high on her focus in the coming year, she said. UN and U.S. officials have said many widespread rights violations in North Korea are directly linked to the Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile technology.
Earlier this week, South Korea’s Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho vowed for a close cooperation with the UN during a meeting with the special rapporteur.
“Seoul’s Unification Ministry is preparing for a roadmap aimed at improving North Korea’s human rights situation,” Kim said.