South Korea to grant citizenship to North Korean defectors

By Daniele Pestilli on February 24, 2012
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The ruling Saenuri Party (until recently, the Grand National Party) decided on Thursday to issue certificates to North Korean defectors that will grant them South Korean citizenship. This will allow North Koreans to not be repatriated from China back to their homeland, where they would most likely be executed or severely punished.

According to SaveMyFriend, Kim Jong-un, son of Kim Jong-il and North Korea's current leader, declared that in the 100-day mourning period of his father's death any defectors would be executed publically, and three generations of their family would be exterminated.

China has taken a collaborative stance on this issue by facilitating their repatriation. SaveMyFriend has deployed an online interface to petition the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea as well as the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the EU High Rep. for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the U.S. Ambassadors to the UN, China, South Korea and several others.

The petition demands the urgent and immediate attention of the international community.

As you are aware, Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol (the "Convention"), defines a refugee as "any person who owing to 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." Further, Article 33(1) expressly mandates that "[n]o Contracting State shall expel or return ('refouler') a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. By returning North Korean refugees to their country, China, which became a Contracting State to the Convention in 1982, openly and blatantly violates the Convention's prohibition on forced repatriation.

The Washington Times and NTDTV reported that protesters in South Korea have been in place for a week now across the street from the Chinese Embassy in Seoul, holding signs that say "Save My Family", "Save My Friend" and "Their Sister Is Precious, Just As Your Sister Is".

According to the Korea Herald, legal experts have argued that the South Korean constitution defines South Korea as the territory spanning the entire peninsula and nearby islands. In terms of international law, this implies that North Koreans should, indeed, be repatriated - to South Korea. The Herald says that about 80 defectors face forcible repatriation in China. Beijing has been heartless in its negotiations with the international community, saying defectors are simply "illegal migrants" who cross over for "economic reasons", thus they do not fall in the category of refugees.

Yonhap News published an article confirming that the South Korean parliamentary committee adopted a resolution to stop China from repatriating defectors today. It was submitted by Park Sun-young of the conservative minor Liberty Forward Party. Ms. Park has staged a hunger strike for several days at the entrance to a church across from the Chinese embassy to condemn Chinese conduct and urge the approval of the resolution. According to the same news source, out of the thirty defectors who were caught by Chinese authorities, nine have been reportedly repatriated over the weekend.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry will bring this issue before the U.N. High Commission for Refugees next week in Geneva.