Human rights activists hold a press conference in front of the South Korean foreign ministry headquarters, calling on the government to speak up for North Korean defectors who are in need of international protection to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Thursday. Courtesy of Transitional Justice Working Group

Human rights groups called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to speak up for North Korean defectors at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and submit a set of questions for the fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR) cycle, scheduled to take place in Vietnam on May 7, to address issues of both North Korean refugees and Vietnam War prisoners of war.Activists have urged the government to send inquiries and recommendations to the U.N. to find ways to protect North Korean defectors whose human rights are at risk of abuse upon forced repatriation.“As a member of the UNHCR executive committee and 20 million club of donors, South Korea should demand the UNHCR to adopt guidelines on the international protection needs of people fleeing North Korea like Afghan and Ukrainian refugees,” the rights group said in a statement.

The Transitional Justice Working Group argued that the South Korean government should continue to make inquiries about ways to protect and assist North Korean defectors who are exposed to human trafficking, forced marriage and other forms of exploitation. It also urged advised countries such as Laos and Mongolia — which are often used as escape routes for those fleeing North Korea — to respect the international principle of non-refoulement.Rights activists also called on the government to cooperate with Vietnam in sharing information and discussing repatriation of South Korean POWs during the Vietnam War who were sent to North Korea. The POWs who failed to return home include Army Sgt. 슬롯게이밍 Park Seong-ryeol and Army Staff Sergeant Ahn Hak-soo.

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