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UN Urges China to Stop Repatriation of North Korean Defectors

FILE - Activists attend a rally held to demand China not to send a group of North Korean defectors back to the North, near the Chinese embassy in Seoul, February 18, 2012.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture is urging China to stop the forcible repatriation of North Korean defectors who have illegally crossed the border.

The committee's recent recommendation follows a review last month of a Chinese government report on how Beijing will implement the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The U.N. is concerned with Beijing classifying all North Korean defectors as economic migrants and not refugees.

Once caught by the Chinese police, the North Koreans are sent home. The committee said the U.N. has more than 100 registered accounts of North Korean defectors who are sent back from China facing systematic torture and harassment in the North.

The committee also recommended that Beijing allow personnel from the U.N.'s refugee agency unimpeded access to North Koreans who entered China to determine whether they deserve refugee status.

The U.N. is recommending that Beijing change its legal system to include the principle of non-refoulement, which forbids the rendering of victims of persecution to their persecutor.

During last month's review that led to the recommendations, experts strongly denounced Beijing's repatriation policy.

"Defectors face torture, arbitrary detention, rape, forced labor," said the committee's vice chairperson, George Tugushi, who added that some even face death. Women who are pregnant with Chinese men's babies are subject to forcible abortion, he said.

Another committee member asked Beijing to disclose the reason behind forcibly sending back North Koreans.

The Committee Against Torture comprises 10 independent experts who monitor the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by its State parties.

The committee was established in 1987 to monitor and assess the implementation of the U.N. Torture Convention. The committee's recommendations are not binding. North Korea is not a signatory to the convention.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.