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Human Rights in China calls on China’s leaders to honor international obligations and protect refugees from North Korea

July 27, 2000

Journalists and aid workers have documented the plight of escapees from North Korea who have taken shelter in northeastern China. These vulnerable people are increasingly being sent back to the country they fled, where they are believed to face torture, ill-treatment, imprisonment and even execution. For example, according to press reports, six North Koreans certified to be refugees by the UN High Commission for Refugees in Russia are now in prison after being returned across the border by China.

As a party to the Convention on the Status of Refugees and the Convention Against Torture (See "Report" session on Impunity for Torturers Continues Despite Changes in the Law at our website), China has an obligation under international law to protect those who have a well-founded fear of persecution or torture if returned to their home countries. Human Rights in China is deeply concerned that the Chinese government is failing to uphold this responsibility.

In letters sent by registered mail on July 20 to the Chinese Premier, Zhu Rongji, and the Governor of Jilin Province, Hong Hu, Human Rights in China urges China to recognize and respect its international obligations and allow NGOs and the United Nations access to people from North Korean sheltering in China, as well as ensuring that those found to be refugees will not be involuntarily returned to their country of origin.


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The text of the letters is follows:

Premier Zhu Rongji Zongli
8 Xihuangchenggenbie Jie
Beijing Shi 100032
People's Republic of China

Dear Premier Zhu,

On behalf of Human Rights in China, I write to urge the Chinese government at all levels to protect the internationally-recognized rights of refugees in northeast China originally from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

We are pleased to note that China is a party to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. That instrument enshrines the principle of non-refoulement, under which states are prohibited from returning refugees against their will to countries where they are in danger of their rights being seriously violated. Credible reports indicate that refugees forced back to the DPRK may indeed face persecution, and thus it is our view that China has an obligation not to return these people to their country of origin.

In order to determine who among the DPRK citizens in China are legitimate refugees, we urge that the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees, and appropriate international non-governmental organizations, be allowed access to all these individuals. We are concerned that the Chinese government has, to date, denied these organizations access to the DPRK citizens in northeast China. Those of the DPRK citizens found to be legitimate refugees must be allowed to stay in China or resettled in third countries. We also request that any retribution against any persons, including Chinese citizens, who may have been assisting the DPRK citizens be immediately halted.

We would urge your government to use your considerable influence with the DPRK authorities improve the conditions of those former refugees who have already been returned. We would like to emphasize that some of these people have been certified as bona fide refugees by the UNHCR, and thus are entitled to special protection under the Convention to which China is a party.

Respectfully yours,

Liu Qing


Governor Hong Hu, Shengzhang
Jilin Provincial People's Government
Jilinsheng renmin zhengfu
11 Xinfa Lu
Changchunshi 120051
Jilin Sheng
People's Republic of China

Dear Governor,

On behalf of Human Rights in China, I write to encourage the Chinese government at all levels to protect the internationally-respected rights of refugees in northeast China originally from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

We are pleased to note that China is a party to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. That instrument enshrines the principle of non-refoulement, under which states are prohibited from returning refugees against their will to countries where they are in danger of their rights being seriously violated. Credible reports indicate that refugees forced back to the DPRK may indeed face persecution, and thus it is our view that China has an obligation not to return these people to their country of origin.

In order to determine who among the DPRK citizens in China are legitimate refugees, we urge that the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees, and appropriate international non-governmental organizations, be allowed access to all these individuals. We are concerned that the Chinese government has, to date, denied these organizations access to the DPRK citizens in northeast China. Those of the DPRK citizens found to be legitimate refugees must be allowed to stay in China or resettled in third countries. We also request that any retribution against any persons, including Chinese citizens, who may have been assisting the DPRK citizens be immediately halted.

Respectfully yours,

Liu Qing

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