LFNKR introduces 2 wives of aid workers being held by China
Is China Really a Part of the
Translated from Japanese Press Statement
Released February 13, 2003
China should join the international community to resolve the
China, despite repeated requests from other governments and
human rights and other international organizations,
continues to arrest and detain North Korean defectors as
well as the humanitarian aid workers trying to assist them.
China shows no signs of stopping. Instead, it has
intensified the crackdown, arresting and repatriating North
Korean refugees, who face severe punishment for treason, up
to and including the death penalty, under the laws of North
Korea, when handed over to their own country.
The North Korean people who cross the border to escape from
starvation are refugees. There is no question of this.
8China, a signatory nation to the Convention Relating to
Refugees, is obliged - at a minimum - to allow the UNHCR
access to those people to interview them.
China can not regard the North Korean refugees as a problem
involving exclusively China and North Korea. Instead, China
must see it as a crucial human rights issue that has to be
addressed by the international community, including not only
its neighboring countries but also Japan, the United States
and Europe. The issue should be resolved within an
With the growing interest of international society in the
human rights of North Korean refugees, and with the 2008
Olympics coming to Beijing, the international community is
watching China, judging if it really qualifies as a member
of international society.
We of the NGO, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, sent
the following questions to China in September of last year.
On one occasion, it was sent by registered mail, and on
another it went through the UNHCR Tokyo Office. We sent the
same questions each time the opportunity arose, including at
all joint press conferences.
We regret to report, however, that as of this date, no
response has been forthcoming to any of the questions.
Today, again, we ask China to answer the following
Representative, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees
We demand that the government of China explain and clarify
the following questions that are crucially relevant to its
Is the status of North Korean defectors in China subject to
international law or national law?
It is our firm belief that the question of refugee status is
an international issue and therefore should be governed by
relevant international laws (i.e. 1951 Convention Relating
to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol thereto of 1967)
and not to be determined by Chinese national law or any
political or economic considerations.
Please explain on what basis the defectors are denied the
right to even substantiate their claims as refugees.
Furthermore, your government 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).
Very regrettably, the Chinese Government is applying
national law to an international issue that is to be
governed by customary international law. Accordingly, if the
Chinese Government should punish the defectors under the
national law, it must first explain why the defectors are
not eligible for refugee status under customary
international law. Arresting defectors without this
explanation and without granting them the benefit of fair
and efficient asylum procedures makes the Chinese
government's decision appear highly arbitrary, and defiant
of human rights principles and international justice. In the
name of fundamental human rights and humanity, the
international community has the right to request the Chinese
Government to first publicly articulate why the defectors in
question have not been found eligible for refugee status.
Can the Chinese Government justifiably charge the defectors
with 'Illegal Entry'?
Without fair and efficient asylum procedures, the Chinese
authorities charge all the defectors with "illegal entry"
for their presence in China. It must be indicated that this
is in violation of the 1951 Convention, Article 31, which
prohibits the Contracting States from imposing "…penalties,
on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees…"
Illegal entry, therefore, does not preclude defectors from
being refugees they claim to be. All individuals who commit
desperate acts, such as illegal entry, should be granted the
opportunity to substantiate their claims in accordance with
the international refugee laws that were established to
protect them. (Technically, the defectors in question are
"illegal border crossers" at the very outset. In essence, no
concept of 'refugee' could exist anywhere in the world and
no refugee laws could be in place if defectors are
unconditionally arrested solely based on their illegal entry
or presence, as in China.)
How does the Chinese Government justify punishing aid
workers who help "Illegal Immigrants" when they act on
All governments have the sovereign right to deal with
illegal immigrants. However, the Chinese Government punishes
not only those it labels 'illegal immigrants', but also
anyone helping them based on humanitarian grounds. Such ill-
advised actions are inconsistent with the prevailing norm of
behavior consistent with international community membership.
By so doing, isn't the Chinese Government forcing innocent
citizens and international aid-workers to deny fundamental
human rights to people in distress? Is the Chinese
interpretation of humanity at odds with the rest of the
Are the defectors economic migrants and, therefore, not
On the basis of abundance of information documented and
available to us, we believe that none of the North Korean
defectors was in China with the intent to pursue business or
seek gainful employment. A migrant enjoys the protection of
his or her home government; a North Korean defector does
Ironically, and to further illustrate this point at issue,
many defectors have been arrested while attempting to leave
China for a third country. We are compelled to raise the
question: If the defectors are economic migrants, pursuing
business and/or seeking gainful employment in China, why
then would they attempt to leave China at the first
opportunity, bound for a third country wherein lies far less
economic opportunity than China (e.g. Mongolia, Myanmar,
Laos)? Their continuing attempts to leave China betray the
Chinese Government's allegation of their motives as
"economic migrant" and clearly manifests their purpose to
One very recent case in point: On January 18, 48 North
Koreans, including children, who were about to leave China
by sea and seek asylum either in South Korea or Japan, were
arrested by the Chinese security services in Yantai City,
Shandong Province. If they were indeed economic migrants,
why would they attempt to leave China at the very first