Dozens of human rights organizations and experts from 17 countries have demanded Beijing release North Korean detainees and grant them refugee status in a joint letter to Xi Jinping, China's top leader, ahead of the Asian Games in Hangzhou.
Influential groups such as Human Rights Watch and high-profile advocates including former U.N. special rapporteurs Tomas Ojea Quintana and Marzuki Darusman were among those calling for Beijing to permanently cease the forcible repatriation of North Koreans.
Other participants include David Alton, crossbench member of the House of Lords in Britain, Sonja Biserko, former Commission of Inquiry (COI) member on the human rights situation in North Korea, Roberta Cohen, co-chair emeritus of the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Lee Yang-hee, former U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and Suzanne Scholte, president of Defense Forum Foundation.
The release of the letter in three languages ― Korean, English and Chinese ― comes two days before the opening of the international sporting event scheduled until Oct. 8 in the eastern Chinese coastal city amid growing worries over the government's resumption of sending back North Korean escapees. Some 2,000 such people have been detained in China over the three years of North Korea's border closure during the pandemic, according to rights groups.
"We are writing to express our concern about the resumption of forcible returns of North Koreans detained in the People's Republic of China to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea)," the 54 participating organizations and seven individuals said in the letter.
"We are concerned regarding news of North Korea's border reopening, with the registration of around 200 athletes, coaches and officials to attend the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, and your government's resumption of forcible repatriations of reportedly 2,000 North Koreans detained in China."
They noted any humanitarian consideration by Beijing should result in the granting of legal status for the North Korean escapees and the stopping of their deportation back to North Korea where "torture, sexual and gender-based violence, forced abortion, imprisonment in brutal labor camps and even executions await them."
"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."
To increase pressure on the Chinese government, rights groups plan to hold a rally in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul, Friday. Organizers said activists from 63 countries are expected to show up.
Meanwhile, South Korean, American and Japanese representatives of NGOs working for the improvement of North Korea's human rights gathered Thursday in Seoul, vowing to strengthen cooperation for the common cause.
In a joint statement, they put forward Beijing's forcible deportation as one of the four issues to focus on, along with toughening sanctions against Pyongyang, improving human rights as a precondition for humanitarian aid and developing strategies for reaching out to the North Korean people for peaceful unification.