Peter Jung on North Korean Refugees in China
By Matthew McGrath
On April 16, the head of Justice for North Korea, Pastor Peter Jung, discussed the harrowing plight of North Korean refugees who flee to China. Pastor Jung began working as a missionary in the Northeastern part of China near the North Korean border in 1998 during the Arduous March. His efforts to rescue North Korean defectors caught the attention of the Chinese authorities, which resulted in his arrest. After spending a year and half in a Chinese prison, Pastor Jung returned to South Korea and continued his work to assist North Korean defectors who seek refuge in South Korea.
In 2007, Pastor Jung founded Justice for North Korea in order to lobby China to grant North Korean defectors refugee status. He feels very strongly that China should cease repatriating North Korean defectors who flee their country. According to Pastor Jung, the core of the problem is that the Chinese government considers North Korean defectors who enter the country illegally to be “economic border migrants,” which allows the Chinese government to circumvent its obligations to grant North Korean defectors refugee status according to the International Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which China signed in 1982. Instead of upholding the international convention regarding “treating defectors humanely,” Pastor Jung described the status quo as something “more like China’s convention with North Korea,” referring to China’s decision to ostensibly support North Korea by forcibly repatriating any nationals found to be within its borders illegally.
The recent release of a report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea presents the opportunity to address human rights abuses in North Korea, along with China’s practice of repatriating North Korean defectors. Pastor Jung parsed the report into four core principles for the audience. He said the first principle is the established that political prison camps exist in North Korea and the North Korean government should disband these camps. The second core principle is that the North Korean government should cease persecution of Christians in North Korea. The third principle indirectly implicates China’s repatriation practice by stating that countries that have North Korean defectors within their borders should cease forcibly repatriating them back to North Korea. The fourth and final core principle is that perpetrators of North Korean human rights violations should be sent to the International Criminal Court and that the Commission of Inquiry needs to establish a North Korean Human Rights Office in Northeast Asia. Pastor Jung said the South Korean government should actively support the establishment of a North Korean Human Rights Office, but has thus far “passively reacted” to the idea.
Pastor Jung then spent some time showing graphic images of various types of torture methods employed in North Korea to punish defectors who have been repatriated and Christians, with special emphasis on the especially barbaric abuse of women.
In closing, Pastor Jung said that he believes that one way to bring an end to crimes against humanity in North Korea is to “give defectors the opportunity to raise their voice…for this we have to rescue as many defectors as we can.” He also encouraged all the lecture participants to continue to support North Korean defectors.