Category: China

What happens to North Korean defectors after being forcibly returned from China

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Leaving North Korea without permission is a criminal offense. So North Koreans forcibly returned after fleeing face incarceration in political prison camps (kwanliso), ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso, or re-education correctional facilities), short-term forced-labor camps (rodong danllyeindae), temporary detention facilities (jipkyulso), or possible execution.

Research by Human Right Watch and other groups has found pervasive abuses and horrid conditions in North Korea’s political prison camps, including meager rations that keep detainees on the edge of starvation, almost no medical care, lack of adequate shelter and clothes, repeated mistreatment that includes sexual assault and torture by guards, and summary executions.

Yet China routinely forcibly repatriates North Koreans, labeling them as illegal “economic migrants”. Forcing North Korean refugees back to their country constitutes refoulement, that is, sending someone back to a place where they would face threats to their lives or freedom. As a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as to the 1984 Convention against Torture, China is specifically obligated not to force back anyone who would be at risk of persecution or torture upon return.

For North Koreans who are returned, if not sent to political prisoner camps, authorities may instead impose sentences of 2 to 15 years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps. Inmates in ordinary prison camps face forced labor in dangerous working conditions, repeated mistreatment by guards, and little nutritious food or medical care.

A former senior official in the North Korean state security service (bowibu), who previously worked on the border and received North Koreans sent back from China, told Human Rights Watch that officials under his command tortured every returnee to find out where they went in China, whom they contacted, and what they had done while outside North Korea.

The 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea found that crimes against humanity, including torture, execution, enslavement, and sexual violence, are committed against prisoners and people forcibly returned to North Korea from China.

[Human Rights Watch]

North Korean woman said she was “living like an animal” in her country

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A woman who defected from North Korea last year planned and executed her escape on her own, she said, because North Korean authorities have caught and killed most of the brokers who used to smuggle people over the border to South Korea.

She was fed up with “living like an animal” in her country where she struggled daily to survive.

To make her escape, she crossed the frozen river that runs along the China border, climbed over a barbed wire fence, and walked for two hours through knee-deep piles of snow in the middle of the night. In one hand she carried poison, in case she was caught by soldiers guarding the border.

Eventually she came upon a small village, where she hoped to find other North Koreans who had escaped and would be sympathetic to her cause. She approached a house with a light in the window, and found a Chinese man instead. She begged to make just one phone call to friends of friends living in South Korea. “The man was very kind, he offered me food and offered me a warm place to stay, and so I was able to eat and he helped me contact my friends.”

She eventually made her way to South Korea, and was astounded to find hot and cold running water, and working toilets. “The toilets — there is water in there, and it cleans out right away. That was just the most amazing thing.”

She recently made it to the U.S. “I [was] shocked when I was in South Korea, but when I came to America, … it just blew my mind. I grew up being told Americans are all like wolves, and our enemy that we must destroy, and I was bombarded with that kind of education,” she added. “But when I actually came and met Americans, they were very warm and kind people.”

Now in the States, she plans to pursue a career in medicine, and hopes one day to return to her neighborhood in a free North Korea. “I believe this is not just my dream, but it’s a dream of all those people who escape from North Korea, and also the people who still suffer there,” she said.

[The Daily Caller]

The road to life in South Korea was not an easy one

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As a former North Korean military officer, Kim Yong-Hwa says he knows all too well the tribulations facing the thousands of defectors on the run for their lives from the repressive Kim regime of North Korea. Now in his mid-60s, he spent over nine years imprisoned in three different countries during his decade-plus journey to true freedom.

After being accused of disloyalty to an authoritarian regime, his journey began with the intention of committing suicide. But instead of taking his own life, Kim told The Christian Post that he ultimately discovered the truth that the Kim Jong Un regime had kept hidden from North Koreans — Christianity.

After walking through much of China, Kim finally arrived in Vietnam but was arrested there trying to climb onto a commercial vessel from South Korea. When only days away from being repatriated, he hit a Vietnamese policeman with a tray of food which landed him a two-year jail sentence in Vietnam. It was during this time, that Kim was exposed to Christianity through an interpreter.

He eventually made it to South Korea, but he was again imprisoned for three years on allegations that he was a North Korean “spy.” After two years in a South Korean prison, Kim eventually migrated to Japan where the Japanese government was also told that he was an “international spy,” and where Kim was then confined to a prison camp for three years.

He returned to South Korea in 2001, and in 2005, officially launched the North Korean Refugees Human Rights Association, a ministry that helps other North Korean defectors facing a similar situation in China find their way to safety. There are an estimated 230,000 North Korean defectors wandering around China at risk of being arrested and repatriated to North Korea, where they could face execution or life in labor camps for the crime of defection.

[The Christian Post]

Human Rights Watch speak in defense of North Korean defectors detained in China

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China should not forcibly deport seven detained North Koreans who face a grave risk of torture and other abuses if returned to North Korea, Human Rights Watch said.

South Koreans assisting relatives of the group’s members told Human Rights Watch that the three women, three men, and a pre-teen girl in the group are being detained in Liaoning province. Some of the group left North Korea in recent weeks and others have lived for several years in China’s border area. Chinese authorities apprehended them on April 28, 2019.

“China should not send these seven people back to North Korea where they face torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and other horrors,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Beijing should immediately allow them to travel to a third country.”

“China should end its complicity with North Korean rights violations by ending the practice of forcing back fleeing North Koreans,” Robertson said. “China should protect these seven North Koreans, both complying with its international obligations and sending Pyongyang a message that it won’t ignore North Korea’s abuses.”

[Human Rights Watch]

North Korea waiting for Trump to blink … or leave office?

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It used to be North Korea that was facing maximum pressure, not exerting it. More recently, Pyongyang conducted a second ballistic missile test in a week, escalating tensions with Washington.

With Pyongyang ramping up the pressure, Trump will eventually have to blink — one way or another. Either he returns to his policy of “maximum pressure,” threatening North Korea with potential military action if it continues missile and potentially even nuclear testing, or he agrees to reopen the topic of sanctions relief.

North Korea’s current hand is a strong one, even if the potential risks of overplaying it are very real. And Trump can likely not afford a rapid escalation of tensions that would be a tacit admission that his entire strategy towards Pyongyang has been a failure.

Washington’s two other levers for pulling on North Korea, its neighbors in China and South Korea, are also likely not feasible. China is not going to exert any pressure on Kim on Trump’s behalf in the middle of a trade war, and the North Korean leader has made it clear that he blames South Korea in part for the general worsening of relations, particularly Seoul’s decision to go ahead with recent joint military drills with the US.

Pyongyang has also gained a solid new backer: Russia. According to Michael Elleman, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a UK-based think tank with ties to the defense industry, the missiles used it Pyongyang’s recent tests “look remarkably like those of a Russian-produced Iskander.” While he said it was possible North Korea had imported the missile from elsewhere or matched the Russian design, the most likely explanation is that it bought them direct from Moscow. It is surely no coincidence that Pyongyang’s tests came off the back of Kim Jong Un’s successful first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pyongyang may also be playing a longer game. It has shown in the past that it is perfectly willing to wait out difficult US Presidents and wait for a change in leadership that will give it a chance to restart negotiations and earn more time to shore up its military capabilities. While no US leader has ever sat down with their North Korean counterpart before Trump, now that the precedent has been made, Pyongyang will know that future Presidents will not see it as such an impossible step.

[CNN]

North Korea planted GPS tracking device in child’s toy to locate her parents

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Agents of North Korea reportedly planted a GPS tracking device in the toy frog of a young girl they knew was about to defect to her parents who had already fled and were now living in South Korea.

Testimony delivered on Thursday, provided by the Caleb Mission, an organization which supports defectors and refugees,  revealed that North Korea used a GPS device implanted in a child’s toy. The parents of the girl had successfully defected to the South, and were attempting to orchestrate her escape.

Before the girl left North Korea for China, a man gave the nine-year-old girl a stuffed frog and said: “This is a gift for you. Give it to your mom,” The Chosun Ilbo reported.

After she arrived at the Chinese safe house, the trafficker inspected the frog and discovered the GPS tracking device inside of it. Alarmed, he left the device undisturbed, fearing he might trigger a raid of the house if he removed it.

According to The Chosun Ilbo, from testimony delivered by defectors it was revealed that North Korea is also using GPS devices to capture traffickers who help people escape the regime.

[Newsweek]

Activists urge China to not repatriate North Korean defectors

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Activists have been urging China not to repatriate seven North Koreans who were detained in an eastern Chinese province after leaving their homeland. The group, which includes a nine-year-old girl, fled North Korea and were then detained by Chinese authorities in the northeast province of Liaoning, according to activists.

China regularly sends defectors back to North Korea, where they face punishment including forced labor, imprisonment, torture, or execution. According to a 2017 Human Rights Watch report, China has increased the number of guards and laid more barbed wire fencing along the border.

The nine-year-old girl’s mother, who left North Korea several years ago and now lives in South Korea, participated in a recent demonstration in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. “I’m worried about my young daughter and her safety … it’s been three years since I’ve seen my daughter,” said the woman, her voice quivering.

Though not common, China has in the past released North Korean defectors. In 2018, China freed 30 defectors, following international pressure, according to South Korean media reports. Many activists complain North Korean human rights have become less of a priority amid negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Though China has signed the United Nations refugee convention, it does not recognize North Koreans as refugees. It instead sees them as illegal economic migrants.

[VoA]

North Korea’s newest missile appears similar to advanced Russian design

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North Korea’s newest missile has a striking resemblance to an advanced Russian design, according to experts analyzing images from a test of the weapon on Saturday morning.

The missile, which North Korea describes as a “tactical guided weapon,” appears superficially to be nearly identical to Russia’s Iskander missile — a highly accurate short-range weapon capable of striking targets more than 150 miles away.

Such a system has the potential to challenge missile defenses in South Korea and further escalate tensions in the region. If it is an Iskander-like missile, this new weapon will fly at altitudes that will make it hard to intercept, according to Michael Elleman, a physicist and senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Iskander flies at an altitude of roughly 30 miles, Elleman says, too high for U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missile interceptors, but too low for THAAD, a system capable of intercepting longer-range missiles.

North Korea tested the weapon on May 4 as part of a “strike drill” that included the use of other weapons such as rocket artillery. It was the first publicized test of a missile since North Korea declared a voluntary moratorium on long-range intercontinental missile tests in April 2018. The new missile appears to be short-range, meaning it doesn’t violate the moratorium.

[NPR]

China to use 5G technology to tackle flow of North Korean refugees

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A Chinese border patrol unit plans to use 5G technology to help stem the flow of refugees from North Korea and smuggled goods between the two countries, according to mainland Chinese media.

The unit in Tonghua, Jilin province, signed an agreement with China Mobile – the largest wireless network operator –to build the country’s first 5G checkpoint at Unbong, or Yunfeng Reservoir in Chinese, Legal Daily reported.

“The Yunfeng checkpoint faces great difficulties in [border] control because it is in the mountains and covers a large area with many major road junctions, so [they] decided to set up China’s first 5G border checkpoint there,” the report said. Jian is a key border trading area between China and North Korea and a favorite crossing point for North Korean refugees and smugglers of food, goods and cash.

According to the Legal Daily  report, Yunfeng border police would trial the use of new technologies such as virtual reality glasses, simultaneously updating logbooks, drones and 4K night-vision monitors to patrol the border when the 5G network is fully established. The report did not say when the project would be completed.

[South China Morning Post]

Kim Jong Un summons ambassadors from Beijing and Moscow

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North Korea’s ambassadors to China and Russia have been summoned back to Pyongyang, raising the possibility Kim Jong Un may have a big announcement he is likely to make at the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly this week.

Kim Jong Un is launching the second term of his rule on Thursday, according to the report. The North Korean leader was not found on a list of delegates newly elected to the assembly in March. His absence from the list is raising questions; some analysts, including high-profile defector Thae Yong-ho, have said Kim Jong Un is probably looking to be appointed titular head-of-state.

Kim Jong Un could also be calling in the diplomats in Beijing and Moscow to discuss a new strategy on resuming dialogue with the United States. Ji and Kim Hyong Jun are also the top diplomats in countries that have consistently supported easing sanctions against Pyongyang.

[UPI]