Seoul is seeking the help of the international community to stop Beijing from repatriating a group of North Korean defectors who were arrested in China. "We tried to resolve the issue in bilateral negotiations, but the two-way channel hasn't worked," the official said. "We'll keep communicating but also demand that China refrain from repatriating the defectors in accordance with international treaties protecting the rights of refugees and banning torture."
The government has hinted it could shift its approach and appeal directly to the international community. Seoul has never so far raised the issue on the international stage. "As a signatory of such treaties, China is bound to follow provisions that forbid forced repatriation," the official said. "The issue involves universal values, and we're asking the Chinese government to consider both domestic and international opinion."
Whenever the issue arose so far, Seoul restricted itself to politely asking China not to repatriate defectors, but China habitually responded it would deal with the matter "according to international and domestic laws and humanitarian principles." In fact, it often did send defectors back to face internment and torture.
The UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees states "No contracting state shall expel or return 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 or political opinion." And the UN Convention Against Torture bans signatory governments from sending individuals back to countries where "there is significant evidence" that they would face torture.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry official said Seoul has identified 10 of the defectors who were recently arrested in China, and none of the 10 have been sent back.