Dec. 30 (UPI) — The United Nations sent a letter to the Chinese government in October, urging Beijing to refrain from forcibly repatriating a group of North Korean refugees under Chinese detention.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights disclosed a letter signed by Tomás Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on North Korea human rights, and Nils Melzer, the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, that was delivered to the Chinese government on Oct. 27, South Korean news service News 1 reported Wednesday.
On Sept. 13, Chinese authorities arrested a group of five defectors. The North Koreans were attempting to flee to South Korea, leaving the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang on Sept. 12. The next day, the group, which included a 14-year-old girl and a pregnant woman, were detained and sent to a police station in the port city of Qingdao, according to the U.N. letter.
It is unclear whether the arrested North Koreans are a family. The group included a 49-year-old woman, a 48-year-old man, a 14-year-old girl, a woman who was six months pregnant, and another woman whose age is unknown, according to reports.
The U.N. said any repatriation of the defectors would be a violation of Article 3 of the U.N. Convention against Torture, or UNCAT, which requires no government expel, return or extradite a person to another country where there are sufficient grounds to believe the individual would be subjected to torture.
The number of North Korean defections to the South has dropped in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Pyongyang has sealed its borders in response to COVID-19, and could be on guard for the new mutated form of the novel coronavirus.
Korean Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said Tuesday a “new variant of a malicious virus” that is highly infectious is “spreading to various countries around the world.”
North Korea raised its alert level for the virus to the highest of three stages earlier this month, and all foreign aid workers left the country in December.