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SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (Oct. 13, 2023) — On the evening of Oct. 9, Chinese officials swiftly repatriated North Korean defectors back to North Korea through Hunchun, Tumen, Changbai, Nanping, and Dandong. These defectors had been previously held in custody by the Public Security Bureau. 

More than 90% of the 600 North Korean defectors who were forcibly returned to North Korea are women, with a considerable number of children among them. China has been actively repatriating North Korean defectors since 1998. Moreover, since 2014, North Korea has been sending all North Korean defectors to concentration camps. This year, there has been a tenfold increase in public executions by firing compared to last year. 

Despite being a signatory to international instruments such as the UN Refugee Convention, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, China’s forced repatriation of North Korean defectors represents a significant breach of international human rights law and may amount to crimes against humanity.

This represents a serious violation of the principle of non-refoulement, a peremptory norm of general international law (Jus cogens) that demands that no state should expel a person to a territory in which his right to life or to be free from torture would face a real risk of irreparable harm. According to the UN Human Rights Committee, this prohibition applies with regard to the country to which removal is to be effected or to any other country to which the person may subsequently be removed. Through this forced repatriation, Chinese officials are placing over 600 North Korean refugees at risk of suffering severe forms of mistreatment, including torture and execution. 


With over 100,000 North Korean refugees residing in China, there’s ongoing fear in this community that more forcible repatriations will take place. This dire situation prompted the United Nations, especially the UNHCR, to step in and take action. 

The Secretary General of the United Nations and the leaders of South Korea and the United States must demand Xi Jinping to immediately halt the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors.

Human Rights Foundation (HRF), Freedom Speakers International (FSI), Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), Unification Media Group, PEN International (North Korea center in Exile), Forget-Me-Not Incorporated, North Korea Reform Radio, Committee for the Democratization of North Korea, Now! Act for North Koreans! (NANK), North Korean Human Rights Union, Improving North Korean Human Rights Center, North Korea Strategy Center, Justice for North Korea, Korean Unification Solidarity, North Korean Human Rights Corporation, Trans-Pacific Culture Institute, PSCORE, World Institute For North Korea Studies, Citizen’s Association for fundamental North Korean Human Right Law, EUM Research Institute, Free North Korea Radio, Fighters for a Free North Korea, National Association of North Korean Refugees, Unification Education Association, Unification Academy, Unification Preparation Institute, Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea (Hanbyun).

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. For all media inquiries or interview requests, please contact [email protected].