We are all too familiar with the miserable human rights conditions in North Korea. Reports by the State Department and NGO's on North Korea paint a grim picture:

  • A total denial of political, civil, and religious liberties; No dissent or criticism of Kim Jong-il is allowed, with the media tightly controlled by the regime;

    • Severe physical abuse is meted out to citizens who violate laws and restrictions; NGO's describe a system of concentration camps akin to the Soviet gulag system, housing an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 inmates;

    • Food shortages - as the regime distributes food based on perceived loyalty, favoring the ruling elite and military.

    This dismal state has lead a large number of North Koreans -- perhaps as many as 300,000 -- to cross into China. There, they seek food and work, and resettlement in South Korea. It is thought that nearly 75 percent of these refugees are women; with up to 90 percent ending up as trafficking victims.

    In northeast China, North Korean refugees live in constant fear of being rounded up by Chinese authorities - for despite its international obligations - China forcibly repatriates North Korean refugees. This is effectively a death sentence; Pyongyang deems leaving North Korea a crime, punishable by execution or the gulag.

    China's mistreatment of these refugees is not new, but has intensified in recent years. The State Department reports that during 2006 "several thousand North Koreans were reportedly detained and forcibly returned to North Korea."

    As part of its stepped-up campaign of repatriation, Chinese authorities reportedly also have established new detention centers along the border with North Korea to accommodate greater numbers of North Koreans prior to their repatriation.

    This resolution sends a strong message to Beijing: this practice must stop. Specifically, the resolution calls on China to honor its obligations under the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol by: halting the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees; terminating the practice of automatically classifying all North Korean border crossers as illegal economic migrants; and granting the UN High Commissioner for Refugees unfettered access to such refugees. So China has signed up to respect refugees -- it is past time for them to live up to their commitments.