LFNKR's Registered Letter to
President Jiang Zemin
Our Urgent Questions to China's Leader
Sent by Postal Registered Mail on September 18, 2002
Mr. Jiang Zemin
People's Republic of China
We wish to review several recent events with you and ask for your consideration and response.
On August 26, seven North Korean defectors (hereinafter referred to as "the defectors") visited the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Beijing to file their official application for refugee status. However, the People's Republic of China (hereinafter referred to as "the Chinese government") immediately arrested them on the spot. Shortly thereafter, on Saturday, August 31, Chinese officials ambushed a group of eleven North Korean defectors and a South Korean aid worker in Changchun in the North East China. They were on their way to Beijing for the same purpose. Some eleven North Korean defectors were arrested on Monday, September 2, while attempting to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy in Beijing to claim refugee status. On Tuesday, September 3, a total of 16 defectors, 8 men and 8 women including a 15 year-old girl, entered the compound of the German Embassy's annex building. These defectors represent many other defectors who have decided to risk their lives for freedom, rather than passively await their doom as in the past ten years.
In the face of the continuing saga of the defectors struggling for their freedom, the Chinese Government is asked to explain and clarify the following questions having bearings on its international obligations:
Is the status of the 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 ruled by Chinese national laws.
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms, "everyone is entitled to the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution" It is on this ground that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has taken up official position that there are refugees among the defectors. In addition, the US Congress encourages the Chinese Government to honor its obligations under the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951. Furthermore, a series of declarations by the United Nations Sub-Commission on Human Rights in general and the latest resolution 2002/23 by the same Commission in particular urges "the international community to make greater efforts to address the needs of persons seeking asylum by ensuring access to fair and efficient asylum procedures"
It Is the international duty of the Chinese Government to explain on what basis are the defectors denied the right to even substantiate their claims as refugees.
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 the customary international law. Arresting defectors without this explanation and without benefit of fair and efficient asylum procedures makes the Chinese government's decision to be arbitrary and in blunt defiance 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.
At the same time, the Chinese Government must abide by its international obligation not to return people to territories where they have a well-founded fear of being persecuted upon their return as in the case of the defectors. Continuing to violate this "non-refoulement" principle will be condemned as a grave defiance of the international community and of the principles of civilized humanity.
Are the Chinese Government's assurances to the world that repatriated defectors are not persecuted in North Korea still valid?
The Chinese Government has repeatedly given its assurances to the world that the defectors are not persecuted in North Korea. We are seriously disturbed with the glaring contradiction between the Chinese Government's assurances on one hand and wealth of testimonies by the defectors themselves, as well as our own documentation, of their inhumane treatment after repatriation to North Korea. For example, we would like to bring to your attention and request your explanation of a well-documented allegation of a beating by North Korean officials of a defector. The defector was beaten senseless and the pummeling only ceased when it appeared he had died in the compound of a Chinese border defense prison (Yanji Border Defense prison). This took place during the process of Chinese authorities transferring to the custody of North Korean security officials in excess of 50 detained defectors, mainly women, from China to North Korea. The beating took place on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 28, 2002 and continued uninterrupted for about 23 minutes. The victim, Mr. Sohn In-kuk, 43, was a former North Korean army major from Hamhung City, North Korea. Documents in our possession include his picture, personal history and a desperate letter to the outside world for help. This information will be made available upon request. Following the prolonged beating, the defector's body, believed to be dead, was carried to North Korea by a Chinese border defense unit vehicle (License Plate #: WJ 06 border 1451). Further documentation on the general persecution of defectors in North Korea will be presented upon request.
Can the Chinese Government 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 who 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, defectors in question are "illegal border crossers" at the first step. There will be no refugees in the world and refugee laws should have never been in place if they are unconditionally arrested sorely on account of their illegal entry or presence as in China.)
Why does Chinese Government punish those who Help "Illegal Immigrants" when they do so on the humanitarian grounds?
All governments have sovereign rights to deal with illegal immigrants. However, the Chinese Government punishes not only the illegal immigrants but also any one helping them on humanitarian grounds. Such ill-advised actions are inconsistent with the prevailing norm of behaviour of international community membership. Is the Chinese Government forcing innocent citizens and international aid-workers to deny fundamental human rights to people in distress? Is the Chinese humanity different from the rest of the world?
Are the defectors economic migrant and therefore not refugees?
The latest UN Resolution, 2002/23, "expresses its concern over the fate of persons who have risked their lives fleeing from starvation or destitution" Many defectors have risked their lives fleeing from starvation and destitution to seek freedom. None of them were in China to do business or seek gainful employment. Ironically, at the same time, many defectors have been arrested while attempting to leave China for a third country. If the defectors were economic migrants, such as doing business or seeking gainful employment in China, why would they attempt to leave China at the first opportunity for a third country where there is little economic opportunity? Their continuing attempts to leave betray the Chinese Government's allegation and clearly manifest their purpose to seek freedom.
Why does the Chinese Government keep records of illegal immigrants or their criminal records secret so that they cannot be made public as in most countries?
The Chinese Government sometimes alleges that it is returning criminals to North Korea, not the defectors. If this is true, the Chinese Government should not hesitate to make the information public as in most countries in the world today. We find it very difficult to understand why the Chinese government keeps such public information secret if the Chinese Government's allegation is true. Keeping information secret for no good purpose makes us doubt the nature of these so-called "criminals" and makes us suspect that the Chinese Government is hiding something it feels shameful.
Why are laws inconsistently applied in China?
The Chinese Government is asked to explain why the same defectors who are given humanitarian consideration if they were in the foreign embassies are refused the same consideration if they are outside foreign embassies. Is presence at a foreign embassy a criterion for Chinese humanitarianism? We are puzzled by the Chinese style double standard. Are the Chinese tough to the weak and submissive to the strong? Is China not aware that the world knows this double standard?
We are alarmed by allegations of torture by the Chinese Government from the defectors and aid-workers by the Chinese Government.
We are in the process of verifying a number of allegations of torture perpetuated by the Chinese authorities from the defectors and aid-workers. Refusal by the Chinese Government to interview the defectors and aid-workers in custody raises serious suspicion of tortures. The Chinese Government must allow access to those in custody in accordance with international standard of civilization to clear itself of torture allegations. What assurances and actions can the Chinese Government provide to the world that those in need are not tortured solely for asking for help and recognition of their plight?
In conclusion, we wish to appeal to your leadership for the prompt and peaceful settlement of the issue so that due international procedures are followed and the defectors' rights as refugees are respected, particularly at this time of difficulty for so many innocent people.
Your attention and action in support of the North Korean refugees in China will be greatly appreciated.
With the assurance of our highest considerations, we remain,
Kenkichi Nakadaira, Representative
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees