Appeal to National Human Rights Commission of Thailand

Presented on Behalf 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.


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


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 community.

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 Korea sooner.

c. Why are they singled out and have their visitation rights refused? Their families and friends are denied visitation rights.


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.


We believe Thailand’s 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.

These 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.

This 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.



Kato Hiroshi,
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees
Kotaro Miura,
The Society to Help Returnees to North Korea
Manabe Sadaki,
Executive Director

Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea
Sang Hun Kim,
International Human Volunteer


Attachment No. 1

North Korean Defectors are Refugees

The question 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 particular 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).

Furthermore, 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)

Indeed, 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).

It is 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)

The Chinese 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.

Under 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:

I. The definition of a “refugee” is universal and has been agreed upon by a majority of UN members through international instruments.
  A. The 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: 
    (a) with “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinions” and 
    (b) “unable 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 it.” 
  B. 137 nations have acceded to both the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol.
II. North Korean defectors in China satisfy the requirements of the universal definition and should be eligible for refugee status.
  A. North 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.
  B. North 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.
  C. Under 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.
III. China’s treatment of North Koreans in China is a defiance of International agreements and a dereliction of its obligations as a UN member.
  A. The People’s Republic of China acceded to both the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol on September 24, 1982.
  B. The 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.
  C. Any 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, 1)
  D. By repatriating defectors back to North Korea, the government of China is making itself a party to North Korean crimes against humanity.
IV. It is in China’s best interest to uphold its international obligations and treat North Korean defectors in China as refugees.
  A. By allowing international organizations to help the defectors on humanitarian grounds, China will help prevent human suffering and persecution on a massive scale.
  B. With 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.
  C. By 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

Thank You Khon Thai

17 September 2007

My name is Kim Song Chol and I am from Seoul, Korea. I was once a North Korean 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.

On December 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.

As the car made its way near Chiang Rai, my wife, in her last trimester of pregnancy, became increasingly nauseous and asked 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.

The kind 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.

As a result of the help we received from this kind lady and the Thai government, we both safely arrived in South Korea and successfully delivered our baby boy in January of 2001.
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”.

Today, 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 freedom.

I understand 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 and sisters.

Thank you.