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Press briefing note on China, Thailand, Viet Nam and Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 20 November 2015
Subjects:    (1) Thailand / China and (2) Viet Nam / DPRK

(1) Thailand / China

We are deeply concerned about the deportation of two Chinese activists – both of whom are recognised refugees – by the Thai authorities, and the risks associated with their being sent back to China.

We have expressed our concern to the Government of Thailand about their deportation, which comes just over four months after we voiced concern over the Government’s deportation of 109 ethnic Uighurs to China.  

The principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the return of a refugee to a country where he or she is likely to face persecution or torture, is contained in Article 3 of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to which Thailand is a party.    

UNHCR said the two refugees who were deported had been due to depart for a third country where they were to be resettled along with their family. The reasons for the deportation remain unclear. Since their deportation, other family members that were in Thailand have left the country for third-country resettlement.  

We strongly urge the Thai Government to stop deporting individuals, including potential refugees and asylum seekers, to countries where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would face an imminent risk of grave human rights violations, including torture. We further urge the Government to put in place an effective system of review of all cases before deportation happens to ensure that there are no serious risks of torture or ill-treatment.

We note that the UN Committee against Torture examined China’s record, along with seven other countries, in Geneva this week. The Committee has previously expressed deep concern about the “continued allegations, corroborated by numerous Chinese legal sources, of routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody.” We call on the Chinese authorities to ensure that those extradited are treated in full conformity with the country’s human rights obligations.

(2) Viet Nam / DPRK

We are alarmed at reports that nine North Korean nationals, including a one-year-old infant and a teenager, were arrested in Viet Nam last month and subsequently transferred to China. There are fears that they may be – or may already have been – repatriated to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) where they would be at risk of very serious human rights violations.

According to information we have received, the nine North Korean nationals, as well as another child who has a North Korean mother and Chinese father, were arrested in Viet Nam on 22 October 2015. Several days later, the group was reportedly sent to Dongxing, a Chinese town at the border with Viet Nam.

On 17 November, the group allegedly arrived at Shenyang in China, close to the DPRK border. The group of nine North Korean nationals has since reportedly been taken out of the city, while the other child was left behind. It is believed that the group is being escorted by the Chinese authorities. The current whereabouts of the nine individuals are unknown. This series of events strongly suggests that the group is at imminent risk of being repatriated to the DPRK – and we are gravely concerned that they may already have been returned.

The 2014 report of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK found that people who are forcibly repatriated to the DPRK are commonly subjected to torture, arbitrary detention, summary execution, forced abortions and other sexual violence. The Commission called on China and other countries to respect the principle of non-refoulement, particularly noting China’s policy to forcibly repatriate any North Korean without proper documentation. The Committee Against Torture has also stressed that “under no circumstances should the State party expel, return or extradite a person to a State where there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture”.

We urge the Chinese and Vietnamese authorities to publicly clarify the fate of the nine North Korean nationals. We further urge all concerned governments to refrain from forcibly returning individuals who have fled the DPRK.

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org ) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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