|A security official stands near a sign promoting the Asian Games at Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport, China, Sunday. Human rights advocates said on Monday that they are joining international efforts to step up pressure on Beijing to cease the forced repatriations North Korean escapees, ahead of the opening of the event on Sept. 23. Yonhap|
Ex-UN rapporteurs, international groups in talks to join campaign to stop deportations
By Jung Min-ho
Human rights advocates are joining international efforts to step up pressure on Beijing ahead of the Asian Games in Hangzhou to cease its practice of forcibly repatriating North Korean escapees. They hope to use the sports event as a platform to raise awareness about the issue.
Two former U.N. rapporteurs on the situation of North Korea's human rights ― Tomas Ojea Quintana and Marzuki Darusman ― and international groups including Human Rights Watch are among those expected to join the campaign, activists told The Korea Times on Monday.
The campaign is taking place as North Korean escapees detained in China ― up to 2,000 according to an estimate by human rights groups ― could be sent back to the North any day by the Chinese government as Beijing and Pyongyang have shown signs of easing border restrictions in recent weeks.
The participating individuals and groups plan to send a joint letter to politicians in China and other countries as well as multinational institutions later this week. A partial boycott of the sporting event and rallies in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul are among the strategies under consideration, according to officials at Transitional Justice Working Group, one of the participating organizations.
"The campaign effort, including the letter, is expected to mount international pressure on the Chinese government and global companies or sponsors, which tend to be responsive to such international opinion," said Lee Young-hwan, executive director of the Seoul-based group.
|Tourists visiting the Westlake pass near official mascots of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, June 26. AP-Yonhap|
Activists believe the Asian Games, scheduled to be held in the Chinese coastal city from Sept. 23 to Oct. 8, could be an effective platform to shed light on the issue.
It is the biggest multi-sport international festival in the country since pandemic restrictions were lifted there about nine months ago, with North Korea also set to end its three-year isolation from global sporting events. Much of the North Korean team remains unknown, including its size as well as whether Pyongyang will send a government delegation to the opening ceremony.
"North Koreans who flee their country are at risk of torture, sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and even execution and forced abortion and infanticide upon their forcible repatriation," a draft of the letter, obtained by The Korea Times, says.
"However, China, which is a party to the U.N. Refugee Convention and Protocol and the Convention against Torture, which codify the principle of non-refoulement, continues to arbitrarily detain and hold North Korean escapees waiting for North Korea's border opening to forcibly return them."
Repatriating North Korean escapees is also a violation of China's own domestic law as Article 46 of the Exit and Entry Administration Law requires a "screening process," according to rights activists.
"China justifies the deportation of North Koreans under bilateral treaties signed with North Korea, such as the Bilateral Agreement on Mutual Cooperation for the Maintenance of State Safety and Social Order … However, such bilateral treaties cannot enable the forced return of North Korean refugees in violation of the principle of non-refoulement under article 33 of the Refugee Convention and article 3 of the Torture Convention," the letter says.
Activists urged China, as an influential and responsible member of the U.N., to put an end to the rights-violating practice of branding North Korean escapees as criminals.
"The official slogan of the 19th Asian Games Hangzhou 2022 is 'Heart to Heart, @Future.' As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, we will not only win our freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory," the letter says.
"In this regard, we urge you to officially end the policy of forcible repatriation of North Korean escapees and to implement the procedure for the individualized determination of refugee status."