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Protection of North Korean Escapees Under International Law

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The primary purpose of this article is to examine the current situation of North Korean escapees in China and Russia and to search for international legal measures protecting their human rights. Since the mid-1990s, many North Koreans have escaped from either their country or from working places in another country, not to return to North Korea for political and economic reasons. Their defections have been accelerated by the severe food crisis plaguing North Korea. As the number of the escapees has grown, their status has become a critical point of contention among the States concerned. It finally became a major issue with the forcible repatriation of seven North Korean escapees in January 2000. In order to protect the human rights of these seven, and to establish a workable precedent for other defectors, international legal measures should be considered as soon as possible. This question will be examined here in light of the principles of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and other relevant legal measures. Crucial points in answer to this question thus may be found within the provisions of the 1951 Convention. Diplomatic considerations should be also taken on these legal grounds. For a final resolution, the international cooperation of governments and NGOs is urgently required.

Affiliations: 1: Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

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