A group of South Korean lawmakers will propose a resolution urging the Chinese government to follow the principle of non-refoulement in handling North Korean escapees, while seeking support from top U.N. leaders to pressure Beijing to abide by international laws.
A source at the National Assembly told The Korea Times on Monday that 14 lawmakers so far have signed a proposal demanding Beijing to permanently stop its practice of deporting North Koreans despite considerable human rights concerns.
After collecting more signatures, the backers plan to introduce the bill in the coming weeks ― possibly during the Hangzhou Asian Games being held from Sept. 23 to Oct. 8.
Given that the forcible repatriations of North Korean escapees is a bipartisan issue regarding the basic right to safety, lawmakers from the ruling People Power Party are optimistic that they could win support from their liberal colleagues to pass the resolution, the source said.
In a draft, obtained by The Korea Times, the lawmakers express concerns over North Koreans who have been detained in China over the last three years of the coronavirus pandemic ― as many as 2,000, according to rights organizations ― and at least four others held in Mongolia.
"The National Assembly of the Republic of Korea calls on China and other countries in which North Korean escapees reside to respect the principle of non-refoulement and grant refugee status or other legal means to let them stay until severe human rights violations disappear in North Korea," the proposal said.
The statement also calls on Antonio Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, and the chiefs of its human rights and refugee agencies ― Volker Turk and Filippo Grandi, respectively ― to raise their voices on the issue by releasing official statements.
Rights activists in South Korea have complained that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have not been doing enough to resolve the issue. In a joint statement last month, 12 groups expressed concerns over "the OHCHR's silence on China's grave human rights violations against North Korean refugees."
The lawmakers' efforts come after rights organizations and high-profile individuals from 17 countries made the same demand in a joint letter sent last week to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
According to the testimonies of numerous North Korean escapees, the fate awaiting those deported by China could be years of incarceration in political prison camps, at the very least. If they were found to have attended religious facilities or contacted South Koreans in China, the escapees could even be tortured or executed.
Beijing has treated North Koreans crossing the border as illegal migrants, claiming it has the right to send them back. Rights experts say such repatriations of escapees ― for whatever excuse Beijing offers ― are clear violations of multiple U.N. treaties, including the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which China promised to respect as a participating party.
In a sign of reopening its borders, North Korea sent athletes to the Asian Games being held in the eastern Chinese coastal city. Activists worry that China would resume the repatriations of North Koreans after the sporting event ends.