Damage Recovery Measures for North Koreans in Unified Korea

On May 3 2016 Donald Trump was confirmed as the Republican presidential nominee and is now the President Elect of the United States. Trump gained attention for asserting Monroe Doctrine beliefs towards Korea, Japan and European allies. Since America’s first president, George Washington, there has existed the opinion that there should not be permanent alliances with other nations. James Monroe, the fifth president of the USA, declared independence in foreign policy through what was later coined the Monroe Doctrine. Trump’s isolationism is nothing new to the USA.


If the USA were to adopt isolationist policies and deal with North Korea through pressuring China, the sudden change due to pressure from the USA and China simultaneously may result in an unexpected reunification. There are currently numerous topics of debate surrounding reunification, but the majority of opinions emphasize the potential economic benefits. To prepare for reunification, there must be sufficient research on the political, economic, legal, medical and social welfare systems which should ensue. One particularly relevant issue in these realms is the identification of responsibilities and compensation for damage regarding the human rights violations towards North Koreans.

North and South Korea family reunion (Source: South China Morning Post)

China ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1982. Article 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” However, so far, China has refused to acknowledge North Korean defectors as refugees, who are identified as “economic migrants” and deported to North Korea.


Chinese policeman prevents North Korean from entering South Korean embassy in China (Source: BBC News)

Furthermore, in October 1988 China ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment. Article 3.1 of this convention states, “No State Party shall expel, return or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” Under the North Korean penal code, Article 63 (Treason against Fatherland) and Article 221 (Crime of Illegal Border Exit/Entry) establish departure from North Korea as a crime of betrayal against the nation. As North Korean defectors are subject to punishment such as the sentence of hard labor, they should be protected under Article 3.1 of the UN Convention against Torture.


There are also concerns for China if the Refugee Convention, Refugee Protocol or Convention against Torture were followed and North Korean defectors were accepted. Firstly, the considerable economic burden this may create could be a barrier to China’s economic development. Secondly, the increase in the number of ethnic Koreans in China may disturb the political stability in China. Lastly, the possible collapse of the North Korean system would require military confrontation with the USA. Thus it can be deduced that China repatriates North Korean defectors due to these internal concerns in regards to the collapse of North Korea and political instability within China.


Nevertheless, China’s domestic and international circumstances do not justify the repatriation of North Korean defectors. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China’s level of influence suggests the deportation of North Korean defectors cannot easily come to an end. However, the violation of human rights in North Korea was caused by the North Korean regime, not the South Korean government. After the reunification, through highlighting China’s support for North Korea, it is necessary to ensure that China participates in distributing compensation for damage. Additionally, following the reunification, the Korean government must gather material on North Korea’s human rights violations through prisons, torture, inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, the violation of the right to life and freedom of expression, as well as kidnappings and involuntary disappearances from other countries.


Translated by Hyunju Ban


***The views herein do not necessarily represent the views of North Korean Review, YINKS, or Yonsei University.

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