Rights of North Korean Defectors Defended as UN Declares them Refugees

A recent report from the United Nations (UN) has for the first time declared North Korean defectors as "refugees". According to Assist News Service (ANS), Jubilee Campaign USA, a Christian human rights group highly appreciated the report. It is expected that the declaration will shed light to the human rights of the North Korean defectors.

The report is based on the conclusion of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, who was appointed in July 2004 with a mandate to investigate and report on human rights violations in North Korea and to begin a dialogue with its government. The report is due to be presented in March to the 61st session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland.

In fact, the favourable report today is brought by the three-year long persistent rally of human rights groups around the world. Especially for Jubilee Campaign USA, it has been pressing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to find decisively that North Koreans fleeing their homeland are refugees and should be afforded refugee protection.

Ann Buwalda of Jubilee Campaign USA told ANS, "The harshest treatment of refugees refouled to North Korea has been reportedly reserved for North Korean citizens who embraced Christianity while in China."

It is reported that many Christians in the border provinces of China have provided food, shelter and protection to North Korean refugees. Many of these refugees embraced Christianity as a result. Repatriated defectors are intensely questioned by North Korean authorities about Christianity and contacts with Christians in China. Those carrying a Bible or Christian literature are more severely punished.

Even worse, China has imposed intense campaigns to crackdown the work of volunteer aid and support systems that provide for refugees along the border provinces.

"Many Christian aid workers from South Korea have suffered imprisonment in China, drawn-out court cases, torture in Chinese custody and, in some cases, have even been handed over to North Korean authorities," Buwalda said.

"Jubilee Campaign will redouble our efforts to ensure that the UN High Commissioner takes note of the Special Rapporteur's report, which has made a public affirmation of refugee status for North Koreans - something the High Commissioner's own agency has utterly failed to do. China must afford unimpeded access to these refugees. The UNHCR must enforce China's treaty obligations and seek unimpeded access through binding arbitration. The international community is morally and legally obliged via treaty mechanisms to protect these refugees," Buwalda added.

Dr. Carl Moeller, President of Open Doors USA has also called for concern over the persecution on North Korean Christian refugees.

"North Korea is the most repressed and isolated nation in the world...it certainly deserves its hall of shame ranking on the World Watch List," he said.

The annual list ranks countries according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith.

"It breaks my heart to hear some of the atrocities against our brothers and sisters there. Tens of thousands of Christians are among 200,000 prisoners held in politico-labor camps. Yet we hear reports of how the church in North Korea continues to grow. Let’s continue to lift up the needs of our fellow believers in North Korea and in all the countries on the list."