Report on European Support for Aid Worker Noguchi

Europe showing more concern for North Korean Refugees

Our group’s secretary general, Mr. Hiroshi Kato, and Mr. Sang Hun Kim, prominent South Korean human rights activist, returned from Europe where they met with leaders of several institutions. During their visit they met strongly positive responses, thanks to direct help from Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Human Rights Without Frontiers, who organized the meetings.

Following their return to Japan, Kato and Kim held a public briefing in Tokyo on 22 February.

Attending the briefing were journalists, LFNKR members and the general public. Below is the text of LFNKR’s statement.

Feb. 22, 2004

Our group, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR), is deeply concerned because of new information received on Feb. 21. Our network in China informed us that two North Korean refugees we have been working to free were transferred from Nanning prison to Tumen, Jilin, in the border area between China and North Korea. These two (the female in her 40’s and the male in his 50’s) were arrested with Takayuki Noguchi back in December while he was trying to help them.

The North Korean embassy in Beijing is believed to have been informed of their transfer to Tumen. In the past, North Korean prisoners who are transferred to the detention center near the border are likely to be repatriated within about a week.

Although we have been unable to confirm the transfer to Tumen, the report came from sources that are usually accurate. If these two North Korean refugees should be repatriated, they are very likely to face extremely severe punishment, possibly even execution, under charges of treason, spying, or the like since they are known to have contacted LFNKR, which is a Japanese NGO.

LFNKR has been working for the safe release of these two defectors to a third country where they can claim their rightful refugee status. The persons and organizations we have contacted include the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japanese parliamentary members, International Parliamentarians’ Coalition of North Korean Refugees and Human Rights (Masaharu Nakagawa, Secretary-General), UNHCR (both the headquarters in Geneva and the Tokyo office), as well as European NGOs and parliamentarians.

Junko Kawaguchi, the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Yasuo Fukuda, Japan’s chief government spokesman, have specifically mentioned Noguchi’s case, which led us to expect eventual success. We find it difficult, however, to be optimistic in light of the repatriation of seven North Korean refugees arrested with Mr. Yamada, the representative of the Society to Help Returnees to North Korea. Those seven were secretly repatriated despite appeals to related organizations, including the Japanese government, in attempts to prevent China from sending them back to North Korea.

Since Noguchi’s mother and aunt visited him 17 January at Nanning prison, no one has been allowed to visit, including the Japanese consul. There is, therefore, no way to obtain information on Noguchi’s present condition.

LFNKR has repeatedly asked the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to check whether the guards actually handed Noguchi the clothing, books and cash his mother carried with her from Japan. So far, no meaningful response has been received from the Ministry.

In addition, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not announced its intention to accept the two Japan-born North Korean defectors, even though they have relatives of Japanese nationality. LFNKR is forced to interpret this as a lack of humanitarianism and respect for human rights by the Japanese government and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The attitude of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs contrasts sharply with the reactions Mr. Kato observed among the people he contacted in the European Commission and European Parliament. They earnestly listened to the reports on the plight of the North Korean refugees and immediately expressed in the public their determinations to address the issue to improve the situation.

LFNKR has submitted sufficient data to UNHCR and made at least three visits, including one to Mr. Ruud Lubbers in Geneva and also at the Tokyo Office, to repeatedly request that they protect the two North Korean defectors.

When Kato spoke with Lubbers this time, all the High Commissioner would promise was to mention Noguchi’s case to the Chinese ambassador in Geneva.

We are deeply distressed that UNHCR has not yet obtained access to the refugees detained in Nanning. Again, LFNKR strongly urges UNHCR to fulfill its legitimate charter as mandated under the Convention on Refugees to protect the North Korean refugees in China.

Kenkichi Nakadaira
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees