UN investigator says North Korea cracking down on escapes

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The United Nations’ independent investigator on human rights in North Korea said Friday there are signs the country and China are strengthening their efforts to track down people who have escaped from the North.

Tomas Ojea Quintana said he raised the issue in meetings with South Korean officials and urged them to play a more active role in preventing China from sending the escapees back to North Korea.

He said he was receiving increasing numbers of accounts of fleeing North Koreans, including children, being detained in the city of Shenyang in northeastern China, and that there are signs Chinese authorities have recently strengthened their search for escapees in collaboration with the North Korean government.

He couldn’t provide more specific information and said he has not discussed the matter yet with Chinese officials.


“I have been raising my concern that repatriation is contrary to the principle of non-refoulement, to which China is bound to, as repatriated North Koreans are at great risk of serious human rights violations, including torture,” Quintana said at a news conference in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Activists say there has been a recent increase in Chinese arrests of North Korean escapees and that raids on safe houses where they hide are also intensifying. In its annual World Report for 2019, Human Rights Watch said China has arrested and forcibly returned hundreds, and possibly thousands, of North Koreans to the North’s security services, which puts them at risk of torture, sexual abuse and imprisonment. China refuses to consider fleeing North Koreans as refugees and does not grant the U.N. refugee agency access to them or to areas on its border with North Korea, the report said.

Quintana also raised concerns over massive North Korean prison camps, where experts say people accused of political crimes are detained and abused without due process, and the government’s suppression of media freedoms and failure to secure the people’s right to food.

He spoke as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up a summit in Pyongyang at which they vowed stronger ties amid stalled nuclear negotiations with Washington.

Quintana said he reiterated the need to include North Korean human rights concerns in the nuclear negotiations. Following a provocative series of nuclear and missile tests, Kim began a diplomatic outreach in 2018 that led to summits with the leaders of the United States, China, South Korea and Russia. Human rights issues have been sidelined from the meetings.

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