Appeal to the
National Human Rights Commission of the Kingdom of
North Korean Refugees
Detained in Thailand
We are a group of human rights organizations and activists based
in Thailand, Japan, Korea and other countries. We have just attended
the International Conference in Thailand, September 17-21, 2007,
on the North Korean Human Rights Situation.
The Conference has reviewed the situation of North Koreans in
Thailand along with addressing other related issues.
The Conference noted that North Korean defectors are eligible
for refugee status in every respect under the 1951 Convention
Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the 1961 Protocol thereto
(please see attachment No.1) and the International Parliamentarians
Coalition for North Korean Refugees Human Rights, consisting
of 111 parliamentarians from 36 countries, at its 4th General
Meeting in Seoul on 29 August 2007 has adopted a resolution,
urging the United Nations and governments in South East Asian
countries including Thailand “to provide some measures
of legal protection for the civil liberties of North Korean refugees
and to make the resettlement process more expedient and efficient,
so there is no delay and no waste of resources.”
The Conference is also encouraged by American legislators who
have recently introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives
calling for a boycott of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing unless
China "stops engaging in serious human rights abuses," including
the denial of refugee status to North Korean refugees.
The conference also noted that the number of North Korean refugees
who have arrived in South Korea has now recently exceeded 11,000.
There are a number of countries that accept them as refugees – including
Russia, Mongolia, Myanmar, and Thailand. It is believed that
some 30 percent of them have arrived in South Korea through Thailand.
The North Koreans who come to Thailand arrive here to escape
a severe and brutal regime in their homeland. But here in Thailand,
these refugees suffer the most.
CAUSES FOR CONCERN
We are mindful of the hardening attitude of
some Thai government authorities towards North Korean refugees,
and concerned with
what the future may hold. In recent months, Thai officials
have negatively been quoted as saying:
1.North Koreans are using Thailand as a springboard
2.Profiteering brokers are behind them
3.North Korean refugees constitute a “threat to national
security” of Thailand
FACTS ABOUT THIS ISSUE
North Korean refugees have been arriving in South Korea for
freedom via Russia, Mongolia, Myanmar, and other countries in
South East Asia. Simply put, the number of refugees has been
increasing in recent years in all the above mentioned routes
and Thailand has been but one such route. But here in Thailand,
the only country where they are arrested and detained, these
refugees suffer the most.
The refugees’ situation is so desperate that they risk
their own and their families’ lives to escape persecution,
starvation and oppression. Clearly, North Koreans arriving in
Thailand are victims of an international disaster.
The South Korean government is well prepared to accept them
just as soon as possible, so as to keep the burden on Thailand
to absolute minimum. Other nations, including the United States,
have also shown a willingness to accept some of these refugees
to further reduce the pressure from refugee flow.
North Koreans are extremely poor, and are perhaps some of the
most destitute people in the entire world today. Logically, how
could any profiteer view the assistance of such a poor people
as a source of financial gain?
The refugees arrive in Thailand after weeks, and often months,
of a long, perilous journey. In fact, some of the physically
weaker refugees simply perish on the way when faced with the
daunting challenge of trudging up and down the steep hill country.
Many humanitarian aid workers help the refugees unconditionally
with no expectation of reimbursement, let alone profit!
All North Koreans who have arrived in Thailand, without a single
exception, have left Thailand as soon as possible. They are arriving
in Thailand only to leave her just as soon as possible.
The North Korean refugees have, in no way, been a threat to
the national security of Thailand. None of them has acted against
the security of Thailand or has been involved in any crimes.
North Korean defectors arriving in Thailand are refugees without
question, as recognized by the UNHCR and the larger international
On the basis of the above observations, the Conference most
respectfully wish to appeal to the Human Rights Commission
of the Kingdom of Thailand to look into the situation in respect
in particular of the following matters of concern:
a. Why are North Korean refugees detained at the expenses of
the Government of Thailand when the South Korean embassy is willing
to accept them immediately and when the language barrier, in
particular, appears insurmountable on the part of Thai authorities?
b. Why are they detained for such a long and unjust period of
time in the extremely degrading detention facilities?
* An example of this comes from the death of a North Korean
refugee while in the Thai Immigration Detention Center. Mr. Kim
Sang-hyon had been in the detention center for 5 months, and
he then died of a cerebral hemorrhage on 8 August 2007 – his
death could have been prevented if he had been sent to South
c. Why are they singled out and have their visitation rights
refused? Their families and friends are denied visitation rights.
STATEMENT OF APPRECIATION
The Conference wishes to convey the gratitude and respect of
the North Korean refugees, who have already arrived in South
Korea, to the people and Government of Thailand for the humanitarian
assistance they received while in Thailand.
We sincerely thank the government of Thailand for their past
assistance of North Koreans arriving in Thailand on their way
to South Korea and elsewhere.
A former North Korean now residing in Seoul attended the recent
conference from Seoul, with his two children who would have never
been born without the help of the Thai people, to express their
gratitude to the people of Thailand for the hospitality they
received when they were here. (attachment No.2)
The Conference was also attended by a Thai woman who previously
worked in Korea – she testified to the kindness of the
Korean people as a token of friendship between the peoples of
these two countries.
long and internationally respected history of humanitarianism
is in danger of being devalued. We
suspect that the policy errors being made are not being
derived consciously, but this is rather a case of ignorance
to the situation
by a small number of Thai immigration officials.
officials seem to believe that they can deter the number
of arrivals of North Koreans in Thailand by intentionally making
them suffer, combined with the incompetence and failure of South
Korean diplomats to give the situation proper attention.
Conference respectfully appeals to the Government of Thailand
to assure the freedom of humanitarian aid workers to help refugees
in respect of Article 31 of the above mentioned Geneva Convention
and in accordance with the practice of customary international
laws and the status of Thailand as a member of Executive Committee
of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
DOCUMENT HAS BEEN RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED BY UNANIMOUS DECISION,
AT THE REQUEST OF THE PARTICIPANTS IN
THE ABOVE MENTIONED INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
ON THE NORTH KOREAN HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION
for North Korean Refugees
Society to Help Returnees to
Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to
Sang Hun Kim,
North Korean Defectors are Refugees
of refugee status is unquestionably an international and global
issue to be governed by relevant international laws
(1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and
1967 Protocol thereto) and therefore not to be defined by any
national laws or political consideration. The above 1951
Convention was heralded by China as “…Magna Carta of International
Refugee Law…The Convention is candle light of hope in the
dark to the helpless refugees…serves as a guide to action
to people who are engaged in humanitarian work of protecting
and assisting refugees.” (Mr. Wang Guangya, Vice
Foreign Minister of the PRC, at the Ministerial Meeting
of States Parties
to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
in Geneva on 12 December 2001).
international instruments prevail in the event
of conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United
Nations under the UN Charter and their obligations under any
other international agreement (UN Charter, Article 103) or any
national law (1951 Convention, Article 8 and Article 40,1)
the Government of China has accepted that “an
international human rights agreement…is binding under Chinese
law and China must honour the corresponding obligations…In
the event of discrepancies between domestic law and an international
human rights agreement…the international agreement will
take precedence… (Report of China – HRI/CORE/1/Add.21/Rev.2,
11 June 2001).
further noted that Mr. QIAO Zonghuai, a member of the delegation of
China, stated at the 24th CAT session in Geneva
on Friday, 5 May 2000, “China adhered to the principle
of pacta sunt servanda. Under the Chinese legal system, the international
instruments…were considered part of Chinese law and legally
binding. In the event of conflict between an international instrument
and a domestic law, the provisions of the international instrument
took precedence…” (CAT/C/SR 419, 12 May 2000)
government indisputably contradicts itself when
it arbitrarily applies its national law to a clearly international
issue in cases where the government has carried out severe crackdowns
on both North Korean refugees and aid workers that assist them.
The Chinese government is clearly obliged to justify its decision
against the granting of refugee status to North Koreans by its
declaration of Chinese national law as justification for the
repatriation of North Korean defectors.
the circumstances, we strongly feel that the government
of China must be condemned for its violation of international
law and continuing defiance of the international community by
continuing the severe crackdowns on North Korean defectors and
those aid workers assisting them.
We believe that North Korean defectors in hiding in China today
are eligible to the refugee status under customary international
laws for the following reasons:
definition of a “refugee” is universal and
has been agreed upon by a majority of UN members through
1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Article
1, Paragraph 1 (a), and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the
Status of Refugees, Article 1, Paragraph 2,” define
a refugee to be someone:
fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion,
nationality, membership of a particular social group or
political opinions” and
or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that
country” or “outside the country of his former
habitual residence and unable or unwilling to return to
nations have acceded to both the 1951 Convention and the
Korean defectors in China satisfy the requirements of the
universal definition and should be eligible for refugee
Koreans defect to China in pursuit of food and freedom
and in defiance of the political authorities of North Korea.
In other words, they are staking a claim to the fundamental
and inalienable rights of life and liberty.
Korean defectors in China are not “economic migrants.” A
migrant enjoys the protection of his or her home government;
a refugee does not. When they defect to China, they are
outside of North Korea and do not expect to avail themselves
of its protection.
the North Korean Criminal Code, Article 47th, defectors
are considered political prisoners and punishable by capital
punishment or a minimum prison term of 7 years. Therefore,
the defectors, when arrested and unconditionally repatriated
to North Korea by the Chinese authorities, have a “well-founded
fear of being persecuted,” often very severely.
treatment of North Koreans in China is a defiance of International
agreements and a dereliction of its obligations as a UN
People’s Republic of China acceded to both the 1951
Convention and the 1967 Protocol on September 24, 1982.
Chinese authorities are clearly violating the non-expulsion
(refoulement) principle of the 1951 Convention, Article
33 (Article 1, Paragraph 1, of the 1967 Protocol) when
they expel or return (“refouler”) the North
Korean defectors in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers
of territories where their lives or freedom would be threatened.
provisions in Chinese national law or any extradition treaty
between China and North Korea allowing North Korean defectors
to be arrested and repatriated is in direct conflict with
the 1951 Convention and the obligations assumed by all
UN members, including China, regarding the universal respect
of human rights and fundamental freedoms described in the
UN Charter, Articles 2 (Paragraph 2), 55 (Paragraph c),
56, and 103; 1951 Convention Article 8 and Article 40,
repatriating defectors back to North Korea, the government
of China is making itself a party to North Korean crimes
is in China’s best interest to uphold its international
obligations and treat North Korean defectors in China as
allowing international organizations to help the defectors
on humanitarian grounds, China will help prevent human
suffering and persecution on a massive scale.
a growing international focus on China due to trade and
business issues, China must be cautious to present itself
in the best light. By upholding its international obligations
to being not only a conscientious participant in the world
community but also a proactive leader.
allowing international organizations to help the defectors,
China can reduce its own burden and costs associated with
the North Korean defector population (e.g., welfare, police,
security, repatriation, etc.)
Attachment No. 2
You Khon Thai
is Kim Song Chol and I am from Seoul, Korea. I
was once a North
refugee in Thailand. Now, I am a citizen of South
Korea. My wife, who was also a North Korean refugee
in Thailand, regrets very much that she could not be here
with us today as
I take this opportunity to thank the people of Thailand.
15th, 2000, my wife and I approached the outskirts
of the Thai city of Chiang Rai. We were refugees trying to find
out freedom. Both of us had previously witnessed the gruesome
North Korean practice of infanticide.
car made its way near Chiang Rai, my wife, in her
last trimester of pregnancy, became increasingly nauseous
the driver to stop. She felt seriously ill, and had
to throw up in a ditch along the road. To our surprise and
relief, a Thai
woman from that rural area, who had apparently seen
our drama unfold, suddenly rushed to the scene and offered
my wife a tray
carrying the most refreshing bottle of cool water
we had ever tasted.
Thai woman then proceeded to comfort my pregnant wife
by gently patting her back and even invited us into her home
to rest, an amazingly impressive gesture, and a true moment where
we were able to witness the famous Thai generosity.
result of the help we received from this kind lady
and the Thai government, we both safely arrived in South Korea
successfully delivered our baby boy in January of
We have repeatedly told this touching story countless
times to everyone we know in South Korea. Because of
our experience, we
will always have a strong admiration for the people of
the great country of Thailand. In fact, our thankfulness
was so great,
that our first boy was given the name “Wuntae.” In
Korean this means “The Grace of Thailand”.
I am here with my two children, Wuntae, who is now
6-years old, and Chukyong, our 4 year old daughter who
would have never been born if we had not been given our
there are over 30,000 Thai Nationals working in South Korea,
including several thousand
illegal Thai residents.
As North Korean defectors living in South Korea,
we always do our best to give our Thai friends
our support and assistance
whenever needed. We believe that Thai and Korean
people are very close neighbors, like brothers