To: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
From: Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (NPO), Tokyo, Japan
Re: Human Rights in North Korea
February 10, 2009
Dear Secretary Clinton,
May we congratulate you on your appointment to the post of Secretary of State, a position which is more vital in today’s world than ever before. And we welcome your visit to Japan and hope that your discussions with the Japanese government are fruitful.
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees is a non-partisan Tokyo-based non-profit organization whose focus is the protection of, and advocacy for, the human rights of refugees from North Korea. We welcome the prospect of progress on North Korean issues that the new administration brings, and we would like to take the opportunity of your visit to Japan to make three recommendations that we feel are vital for the successful resolution of the situation on the Korean peninsula.
As you know, those who flee North Korea to escape starvation and/or oppression must cross into China, where some remain and some make their way to South Korea, the United States, Japan, or other countries.
The Chinese government, despite being a signatory to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, regularly seeks out refugees from North Korea hiding in China and forcibly repatriates them. Refugees who are returned in this way, in contravention of the principle of non-refoulement, are subject to harsh punishments, including sentences in labor camps, punishment of their family members, and/or execution.
Human Trafficking in China
Because of the danger of being repatriated, refugees from North Korea are in an extremely vulnerable position and are frequently preyed on by human traffickers once they cross the border and arrive in China. Their vulnerability is exacerbated by the imbalance in the sex ratio in China, making “brides” in high demand, and by their lack of legal status in China due to the Chinese government’s refusal to recognize them as refugees, referring to them instead as “economic migrants”. Thus, most women are forced into either involuntary sex work or “marriage” with ethnic Chinese or Korean Chinese men. In the case of “marriage”, the women are sold to their “husbands”, sometimes being sold to more than one man in succession. To the extent that such “marriage” is voluntary on the part of the women, it is because of their lack of legal status in China and the severe penalties they face if forcibly repatriated.
Children of North Korean mothers and Chinese fathers
The children born to North Korean mothers and Chinese fathers are entitled, under Chinese domestic law, to an education, regardless of their citizenship or legal status. However, the Chinese government for the most part refuses to permit such children to be registered legally (a prerequisite for school enrolment), and even when they are permitted to register, their mothers are in danger of being forcibly returned to North Korea. This has led to a situation in which such children are in danger of losing their North Korean mothers, and are also not permitted to receive an education, or to receive an education past the primary level.
The Japanese abductee issue
As you know, the Japanese government is very concerned about confirming the whereabouts of, and securing the return of, Japanese nationals kidnapped by the North Korean government.
Taking into consideration the above background information, and the lack of overall progress on the North Korean issue, we would like to make three recommendations for the consideration of the new administration and the Department of State in regard to the improvement of human rights relating to the Korean peninsula.
- We recommend that the United States government urge China, as a major player in the international community, to respect its treaty obligations and cease the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees. We submit that instead China should be encouraged to ensure the access to such refugees by the UNHCR and to grant such refugees temporary legal residency status.
- We recommend that the United States urge China to recognize the Chinese citizenship of children born to North Korean women and Chinese men, and to allow both their registration without fear of reprisal, and their access to education, health, and other social services. We recognize and appreciate the steps the Chinese government has already taken to cease the expulsion of such children to North Korea, and to allow such children, in some cases, to register and attend school.
- We recommend that the United States approach the issue of the Japanese abduction issue as one part of a larger human rights dialogue. The North Korean regime’s abduction of foreigners including Japanese nationals, operation of labor camps, restriction of access to food and information, restriction of movement, and denial of the freedom of expression; and the Chinese government’s policy of forcible repatriation of refugees to North Korea, and denial of legal resident status to the children of North Korean women and Chinese men, are all human rights abuses that must be addressed together in order to be resolved effectively.
We believe that addressing these various human rights issues is integral to the resolution of the situation on the Korean peninsula, which has security implications for Asia and the United States. We urge the new American administration to seize the opportunity of a successful resolution to these issues, including human rights not as a “side” issue but as a central and vital part of the whole.
Again, we welcome your visit to Japan and look forward to a renewed dialogue about the Korean peninsula.
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees