North Korea

China pressed to stop repatriating North Koreans at UN parley marked by clashes with US and Japan

China failed to halt UN Security Council meeting on human rights abuses before side event at which North Korean woman told of her repatriation ordeal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 7:20am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2017, 12:04am

China clashed with the US and Japan at the United Nations as it faced calls from members of the international peacekeeping body to stop repatriating North Koreans.

A UN Security Council meeting on human rights abuses, which China unsuccessfully tried to halt, was followed by a side event in which a North Korean woman recounted her repatriation ordeal in graphic detail and human rights advocates warned that North Korean officials might face international charges of crimes against humanity.

“We had members [of the UN Security Council] that said we didn’t need to bring this up for debate,” Washington’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said at the UN side event, held immediately after the Security Council meeting.

“We heard members today say that they were worried that this would cause additional warfare by North Korea. There’s millions of other people that want to get out, and so if there’s nothing else we do inside [North Korea], I hope that we’ll have a conversation about repatriation because we may not be able to do anything on the inside,” Haley said.

“But if they have the courage and if they take the chance, and they do flee North Korea, we should try to find a solution for them on the outside.”

China tried to halt the fourth annual Security Council meeting on human rights abuses in North Korea, using a procedural vote that didn’t get enough support.

Only Russia and Bolivia voted with China in trying to stop the meeting, leaving China short of the nine votes needed for a shutdown. Ten members, including the US and Japan, voted to proceed. Egypt and Ethiopia abstained.

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“Council members and relevant parties should engage themselves with finding ways to ease tensions on the Peninsula,” China’s Deputy UN Ambassador Wu Haitao said in the Security Council meeting. “They should avoid mutual provocation and words or actions that might further escalate the situation.”

Security Council “discussion of the human rights issue in [North Korea] runs counter to the above objective and is counter productive”, Wu said.

The diplomatic skirmish follows a familiar pattern of China and Russia siding against the US and Japan over North Korea in the UN framework. Although two new Security Council resolutions against Pyongyang passed this year, China and Russia have assigned blame for the current stand-off over North Korea’s nuclear weapons development to joint military operations in the region involving the US, Japan and South Korea.

Fleeing the homeland of North Korea

The pressure on China continued after the Security Council meeting as the missions of the US, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea and the UK hosted the side event called: “North Korea human rights: the terrifying experiences of forcibly repatriated North Korean women”.

“I suffered so much abuse [at a prison for those who leave North Korea without government permission] my right rib has healed at an awkward angle,” said Ji Hyeon-a, the North Korean defector featured at the event.

“Not many people made it out alive from this place. Everyone was subjected to hard labour and meals were so lacking that we ate raw locusts, discarded cabbage leaves and skinned frogs and rats.”

Speakers at the side event said North Korean women bear the brunt of punishment for leaving the country without permission because they represent about 70 per cent of these individuals.

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David Hawk, former executive director of Amnesty International and a North Korea human rights expert and author of The Hidden Gulag, a comprehensive study of North Korea’s prison camps, said North Korean women refugees in China “are not safe”.

“When they are reported to police, or when the Chinese make sweeps they’re taken to the Chinese side of the repatriation corridors,” Hawk said.

“Once they are sent back in buses or vans with windows covered so it’s not possible to see how full the buses or vans are, they are turned over to the police agents of the ministry of state security on the North Korean side.”

There they face imprisonment, forced abortions and infanticide if they bear children fathered by non-Koreans, Hawk said.

Michael Kirby, a former justice of the Australian High Court and former chair of the commission, said that after 34 years as a judge in his own country, he has “been hardened by exposure to the full range of human cruelty and wrongdoing”.

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“But on hearing three witnesses before [the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea UN] I freely admit that I wept,” Kirby said.

“These are continuous crimes against humanity. There is no time limit ticking over against their prosecution. They continue and they demand redress,” Kirby said.