Refugees Face Possible Deportation to North Korea

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PYONGYANG, North Korea –

Nine North Korean refugees are believed to be detained in a Chinese military base, awaiting potential deportation to North Korea. Among the refugees are an 11-month-old baby and a teenager. The refugees were detained by police in Vietnam on October 22, according to their relatives. After their bus was stopped for a random check, they were detained for two days before being handed over to Chinese authorities.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights expressed concerns on Friday that the refugees had already been sent back to North Korea. Human Rights Watch believes, however, that the refugees are being held in Tumen, a Chinese town near the North Korean border. Tumen is the last stopping point for many North Korean refugees who are being returned to North Korea. Human Rights Watch is concerned that the refugees could be forcibly deported to North Korea at any time.

The North Korea-China border near Tumen. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

Human Rights Watch has urged President Park Geun-hye of South Korea to pressure China to free the refugees and to allow them to seek asylum in a country of their choice. President Park’s office has stated that her government is working to secure the freedom of the refugees and to ensure that China will not forcibly deport the refugees back to North Korea.

Phil Robertson, the Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch, has stated that if the refugees are handed back over to North Korean officials, they will likely vanish into North Korea’s prison camp system, which is “characterized by torture, violence, and severe deprivation.” Many North Koreans who have been able escape North Korea have stated that refugees sent back from China are subjected to torture and imprisonment in labor camps.

North Korea treats refugees as traitors and therefore subjects repatriated refugees to detention, torture and sexual violence, according to the U.N. Under a 2010 law, those who leave North Korea without permission are deemed guilty of “treachery” against the country, which is punishable by death.

China has often not recognized the refugee status of such North Koreans and instead has tended to treat them as illegal economic migrants. Consequently, China has deported many refugees back to North Korea. The act of forcibly sending refugees back to a country where they face potential persecution is known as “refoulment” and is banned under international treaties such as the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol. As a party to those international treaties, China is not allowed return refugees to a place where their life or freedom would be threatened.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture recently expressed concerns about China’s practice of deporting North Korean refugees. Xu Hong, an official in China’s foreign ministry, told the U.N. that some illegal migrants from North Korea entering China for economic reasons do not meet the Refugee Convention’s conditions pertaining to the status of refugees and that some of them were criminals who had abused the principle of asylum.

Over 28,000 North Koreans have resettled in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Most of the refugees have fled into China first, then have crossed into countries that have entry points into South Korea, such as Thailand and Vietnam.


For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Fears for North Korean Refugees Who May ‘Face Death” if Returned by China – 25 November 2015

Human Rights Watch – South Korea: Act to Save North Korea Refugees – 24 November 2015

The New York Times – South Korea Says It’s Working to Halt Refugees’ Return to North – 25 November 2015

Reuters – U.N. Asks Vietnam and China to Clarify Fate of North Koreans – 20 November 2015



Syria Deeply: ‘Turkey Losing Autonomy to Syria Crisis,’ Says Expert

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply newsletter. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments about Syria and the Syrians in order to bring you valuable news and analysis.

Turkey Losing Autonomy to Syria Crisis,’ Says Expert

Although Ankara and Moscow have provided conflicting accounts on what led Turkey to shoot down a Russian jet along the Turkish border Tuesday morning, Turkey-Syria expert Gokhan Bacik says one thing is clear: the Syrian crisis is transforming Turkey’s foreign policy.

Hassakeh Schools Switch to Kurdish Language Education

Northeastern Syria’s autonomous Kurdish leadership has informed schools in the area they must teach core subjects in Kurdish. But while many of the area’s residents are proud to embrace their ethnic heritage, some worry about whether the change is sustainable in such a chaotic political environment.

As They Say, With Friends Like These …

For Syrian-Americans, writes Evan Barrett, racism did not begin with the attacks in Paris; nor did a sense of disappointment and betrayal start with the passing last week of a House bill that would effectively halt the resettlement program for Syrian refugees for the time being.

More Recent Stories to Look Out for at Syria Deeply:

Notes From a Brief Return to Damascus
My Life in Syria: Diary Entry 49
‘Death is Always the Hardest Part’ – Q&A with Zein al-Rifai

Find our new reporting and analysis every weekday at
You can reach our team with any comments or suggestions at


Chinese Forces Kill Mine Attack Suspects in Xinjiang Region

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


BEIJING, China –

Chinese authorities confirmed on Friday that 28 people suspected of involvement in a coal mine attack in September had been killed. News of the killings had surfaced earlier in the week, but the killings have not been officially acknowledged until now.

Because China censors information in Xinjiang, there is still limited information on the killings known at this time. Initially, 17 people were reported to have been killed for their involvement in the coal mine attack at the Sogan Colliery in Aksu. It is believed that three main suspects were killed, along with their families.

Radio Free Asia, a news source funded by the United States, first reported earlier this week that officials had killed 17 suspects, including women and children. The report stated that the suspects were killed in the Xinjiang region, an area near the China-Kazakhstan border. Radio Free Asia quoted a Xinjiang police officer as saying that Chinese military forces blew up a cave where the suspects were hiding.

The Xinjiang region is near the China-Kazakhstan border. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

A statement posted on China’s Ministry of Public Security website last week stated that the “terrorists were killed on the 56th day of a ‘pursue and attack’ operation in the region”. Radio Free Asia reports that the statement was taken down shortly after.

The Chinese government has not officially addressed September’s attack on the Sogan Colliery. Radio Free Asia has reported that most of the victims were Han Chinese, the ethnic majority in the region. A report by Tianshin, a state-run news website, stated that only 16 people were killed in the coal mine attack. However, according to the victims’ relatives and residents in the area, the attack killed over 50 people.

Chinese officials have heightened their campaign against what they see as a growing radical separatist movement led by the Uighurs, a Muslim minority. The Chinese government has increasingly restricted the Uighurs’ culture and religion, including their right to participate in religious worship.

Hundreds of people have died in Xinjiang and other areas of China over the past three years. China has placed the blame for the unrest on Islamic militants, but the Uighurs say that China’s controls over their religious and cultural practices are inciting violence in the region.

China has denied committing human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region and states that it is fighting against Islamic radicals in the area. Following the attacks on Paris last week, Chinese leaders called for foreign nations to join China’s efforts to eliminate terrorist movements in Xinjiang. Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, stated that there could be no double standards and that terrorism was also occurring in China. Some have criticized China’s statements, saying that nations should be cautious of accepting China’s definition of terrorism.


For more information, please see:

New York Times – China Acknowledges Killing 28, Accusing Them of Role in Mine Attack – 20 November 2015

BBC – Chinese Forces ‘Kill 17 in Xinjiang’ After Colliery Attack – 18 November 2015

New York Times – Police in China Kill 17 Linked to Mine Attack, Report Says – 18 November 2015

Reuters – Chinese Security Forces Kill 17 in Xinjiang: Radio Free Asia – 18 November 2015

Radio Free Asia – Chinese Authorities Kill 17 Suspects in Xinjiang Attack, Including Seven Women and Children – 17 November 2015

U.N. General Assembly’s Third Committee Condemns North Korea’s Human Rights Violations

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


PYONGYANG, North Korea –

A committee of the United Nations General Assembly condemned on Thursday what it described as rampant and planned human rights violations in North Korea. Pyongyang has rebuked the resolution, saying that it was a hostile plot coordinated by the United States and its allies.

The resolution, which urges North Korea to end all human rights abuses, was drafted by the European Union and Japan and is non-binding. It was adopted by the General Assembly’s Third Committee, whose focus is on human rights and includes 193 nations. The General Assembly has condemned human rights abuses every year since 2005. For the second consecutive year, the resolution encourages the U.N. Security Council to consider sending North Korea to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The resolution will be voted on in the full General Assembly next month.

112 of the countries in the Third Committee supported the resolution, while 19 voted against the resolution. 50 countries abstained from voting. Among the countries that voted against the resolution were China, Russia, Nicaragua, and Syria. Many of the countries that voted against the resolution said that they object to resolutions singling out specific countries for human rights abuses.

The resolution stated that there have been “ongoing, systematic, widespread, and gross violations of human rights” in North Korea. The resolution accused North Korea of abuses such as torture, rapes, use of prison camps, enslavement, forced abortions, and forced transfers of populations. The Third Committee also stated that Pyongyang has not cooperated with the U.N.’s special rapporteur for North Korea, Marzuki Darusman.

Before the Third Committee’s vote, North Korea’s Deputy Director for U.N. Affairs, Choe Myong-Nam, called for nations to vote against the resolution and said that Pyongyang will “react in the strongest possible terms” to the resolution. North Korea’s U.N. mission emailed reporters a statement rejecting the resolution, saying that the resolution is a product of political confrontation, plot, and conspiracy by the United States and other countries who are hostile toward North Korea and that the resolution is irrelevant to promoting and protecting human rights. The mission stated that North Korea’s government has always maintained a policy of taking responsibility for and promoting human rights of the “popular masses”.

Ri Hung Sik, Ambassador at-large of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry gestures while speaking to reporters at North Korean Mission to the United Nations this week. (Photo courtesy of Reuters UK)

The United Nations General Assembly Committee also approved resolutions concerning human rights violations in Iran, Syria, and Myanmar. The resolutions will now also go on to the full General Assembly.


For more information, please see:

Channel NewsAsia – UN Votes to in Record Number to Condemn North Korea Rights Violations – 20 November 2015

CBS News – U.N. Panel Condemns N. Korea for Gross Human Rights Abuses – 19 November 2015

New York Times – Human Rights Committee Condemns North Korea – 19 November 2015

Reuters UK – U.N. Panel Condemns North Korea Abuses, Pyongyang Cites U.S. ‘Plot’ – 19 November 2015



Colombia/FARC Peace Talks Slowing Down According to Rebels

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — FARC rebels have accused the Colombian government of stalling the peace talks. In a statement released on Tuesday, FARC head Timoleon said that FARC was “worried that on the government side there seems to be a deliberate effort to slow down (negotiations), to complicate the progress of the agreement.”

FARC Leader Timoleon Jiminez speaking in Havana, Cuba. (Photo courtesy of TeleSur)

FARC fears that the alleged stalling and the government’s emphasis on maintaining the March 23, 2016 deadline for a final agreement is a tactic to coerce the rebels to make concessions.

Negotiations for peace have been in the works in Havana, Cuba since the end of 2012. In September, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leadership signed an agreement on transitional justice.

However peace is not simple: there are a number of complexities which both the government and FARC leadership will have to contend. For example, FARC is not the only paramilitary group active in Colombia, and there is a concern among members that if they give up their arms they will be at risk of attack from other groups.

President Santos has said that the government plan was for FARC to set up communities in secured areas, both for their own protection and so they can be ruled out in the case of violence committed elsewhere. FARC has yet to agree to this.

During a visit to the Philippines early this week to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting, President Santos also announced that he would request a UN resolution to bring official monitors into the country to oversee the ceasefire once the final peace agreement is signed. He said that the resolution would be “the best way possible” to ensure the success of the peace process.

The conflict between Colombia and FARC rebels has been ongoing since 1948. If ended, it would signal the end of a civil conflict which has left at least 220,000 people dead.


For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports – Santos will ask UN to monitor and verify pending ceasefire with FARC – 16 November 2015

Latino Post – Colombia Government Seeks to Help FARC Rebels Become Law-Abiding Civilians? – 16 November 2015

TeleSur – FARC Calls on Colombian Government to Stop Stalling Peace Talks – 17 November 2015

Latin American Herald Tribune – FARC Chief Accuses Colombian Government of “Slowing Down” Peace Process – 18 November 2015

Manila Times – PH to help Colombia in peace talks – Aquino – 18 November 2015

Syria Deeply: ‘Women Key to Syrian Future’ – Q&A with Raed Fares

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply newsletter. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments about Syria and the Syrians in order to bring you valuable news and analysis.

‘Women Key to Syrian Future’ – Q&A with Raed Fares

“Women have the most critical role in rebuilding Syria and raising the next generation of Syrians,” said Raed Fares, a community leader in Idlib whose plethora of projects aims to strengthen Syrian civil society through a combination of awareness, education and inclusivity.

Inside ISIS Inc: The Journey of a Barrel of Oil

ISIS controls most of Syria’s oil fields, and crude is the militant group’s biggest single source of revenue. Here, we follow the progress of a barrel of oil from extraction to end user to see how the ISIS production system works, who is making money from it and why it is proving so challenging to disrupt.

Islamic State Authorities Ban Syrian Banknotes

ISIS has banned the use of newly pressed 500 and 1,000 Syrian pound notes, and while some residents fear this could be the beginning of a currency switch throughout the jihadist-controlled territory, others told Syria Deeply it’s a ploy by the upper echelon of ISIS to make a quick buck.

More Recent Stories to Look Out for at Syria Deeply:

• Will Paris Attacks Prompt U.S. Boots on Ground?
• Paris Terror Attacks Have Benefited Assad?
• ISIS and the Paris Attacks, ‘An Act of War’

Find our new reporting and analysis every weekday at
You can reach our team with any comments or suggestions at

Top photo: People lay flowers and candles in front of the restaurant Le Carillon, one of the establishments targeted in Friday’s gun and bomb attacks, in Paris, Monday, November 16, 2015. French police raided more than 150 locations overnight as authorities released the names of two more potential suicide bombers involved in the Paris attacks – one born in Syria, the other a Frenchman wanted as part of a terrorism investigation. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

ICTJ: For Social Change to Take Root, Children Must be Involved in Truth-seeking

Dear friends,
Children and young people are particularly affected by conflict and mass atrocity, whether they are forced to fight or have access to critical social services like education interrupted. As the leaders of tomorrow, children must be included in transitional justice processes wherever countries are looking to break from legacies of violence.

Today, Universal Children’s Day, ICTJ is shining a light on the need to actively engage children in truth-seeking processes.  The International Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted 26 years ago, guarantees children a right to participate and be heard. In our work around the world, we regularly hear children and young people express their desire to have a say in building a brighter future for themselves and their countries by learning about past atrocities.

To mark this important day, I am pleased to share with you a
series of reflections and helpful tools drawing upon our Children and Youth unit’s work in Kenya.

I believe you will find of particular interest our video, “
Voices of Tomorrow,” featuring Mark and Sharon, two young people who discuss their experiences participating in the proceedings of Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC). Their strength and positive outlook for themselves and their country’s future are truly inspirational.

Transitional justice practitioners will want to take time to watch two instructional videos produced by ICTJ, which provide guidance for the inclusion of children in truth commissions. Based on interviews with former Kenya TJRC commissioners, child protection agencies, and international experts, the videos present key insights from their practical experience. They will be valuable tools for countries and communities seeking to establish truth-seeking processes.

Educators will be interested in Learning From Our Past. Developed in collaboration with the TJRC, Facing History and Ourselves, and Shikaya, this illustrated booklet based on the TJRC final report is designed to guide discussions about the past among students and spark their conversations about strengthening justice, and building democracy and social cohesion in Kenya. Booklets like this can help ensure that children remain engaged in the transitional justice process well beyond the act of testifying before a truth commission.

Finally, I would also like to share with you an ambitious research project that ICTJ has embarked on with UNICEF. After two and a half years of work, this week we published a
report on the links between transitional justice, education, and peacebuilding. Education can play a vital role in disrupting intergenerational cycles of violence, and understanding the interactions between the education sector and transitional justice processes is crucial to ensuring communities successfully address legacies of mass violence.

A book compiling this important research will be published in spring 2016, and in the intervening months we will be publishing a series of papers and analysis pieces examining different countries and themes. In the meantime, I encourage you to listen to this
podcast exploring some of our researchers’ findings.

We want to hear from the youth. We want to engage with young people working towards a better tomorrow. Please share your thoughts with us on
Twitter (using hashtag #ChildrensDay), Facebook, or by email to

Thank you,

David Tolbert, President
International Center for Transitional Justice 

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Paris, Beirut, and the Inconsistent Definition of Civilian

In the wake of the tragedies in Paris and Beirut, public debate has been mounting on the proper response to the brutality of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), refugee policy and quotas, and the treatment of Muslims in Western countries. On social media, many criticized Facebook, the media, and other users for giving more attention to the senseless deaths in Paris while largely ignoring similar events in Beirut. Syrians also took to social media to express their sympathy and outrage, but like those in Europe and North America, their reactions to the attacks in Paris and Beirut differed, in an even more alarming way.

Although many Syrians denounced both attacks equally, many others, including some activists, cheered the deaths in Beirut’s Shia suburb, Dahiyeh, a Hezbollah stronghold. They argued that Hezbollah, an Assad government ally, has been responsible for the death and suffering of innocent Syrians. Accordingly, the death and suffering of innocent people living in a Hezbollah-dominant neighborhood was just retribution. Two days later, the same individuals expressed their condolences for the deaths in Paris, decrying terrorism and the targeting of civilians. The definition of “civilian” seems to have changed over night.

The hypocrisy of these statements is not new. Only weeks earlier, Jeish al-Islam, one of the groups that issued amoving statement condemning the Paris attacks on civilians, was documented parading prisoners and civilians, including women, through the streets in cages in order to deter airstrikes by the Syrian government. The use of civilians as human shields endangers their lives and is a clear violation of international law. In a similar vein, prior to the Beirut bombing, Hezbollah supporters celebrated and distributed baklawa in the streets when Homs fell to the Syrian government in 2014, resulting in many civilian deaths.

As these and other examples demonstrate, there is a growing view that, when civilians support the enemy, they lose their civilian status and can be justly targeted and killed. This view is blatantly false. International humanitarian law strictly prohibits attacks on civilians, defined as persons who are not members of the armed forces or other organized armed groups. This protection is only forfeited in cases where a civilian takes a direct part in hostilities. Taking a direct part in hostilities is commonly understood to include “acts of violence which pose an immediate threat of actual harm to the adverse party.” Simply living in an opposition stronghold or showing support for an adverse party’s position or military effort does not rise to this level.

In the absence of real justice mechanisms that hold perpetrators to account for their crimes against civilians, empathy for the suffering of others has eroded and revenge attacks have become more common. Certain rebel groups, including factions of the Free Syrian Army and Jabhat Al Nusra, are perpetrating horrific acts of their own, including secret detention and torture practices, very much modeled off of Syrian government procedures. Furthering the cycle of impunity, increased sectarianism has led to a greater willingness among Syrians to overlook such abuses when perpetrated by members of their own sect — favoring justice in any form, even at the cost of human dignity. Such a shift does not bode well for future transitional justice initiatives. Both Syria and the international community should prioritize accountability for attacks on civilians in order to combat impunity and ensure justice for all victims.

For more information and to provide feedback, please email SJAC at

Suicide Bombers Kill Dozens in Beirut

By Brittani Howell

Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East 


BEIRUT, Lebanon – At least 43 people were killed on Thursday when two suicide bombers attacked Lebanon’s capital. More than 200 people were wounded in the attacks. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, however Lebanon’s government has made no conformation.

Site of the two suicide bombing attacks in Beirut. (Photo Courtesy of the New York Times)

Lebanese Interior Minister, Nohad Machnouk, announced on Sunday that seven Syrians and two Lebanese suspects had been arrested for allegedly planning the terrorist attacks. According to Machnouk, the attackers had originally planned to strike a hospital in Rasoul al-Azam. The plan changed because of tight security in the hospital.

The two blasts on Thursday, occurred almost simultaneously, striking a Hezbollah Shi’ite community center and a nearby bakery in Borj al-Barajneh. Borj al-Baranjneh is a residential and commercial area. Allegedly, a bike loaded with explosives was detonated and when people gathered around the explosion a suicide bomber blew himself up in the group of people.

“They targeted civilians, worshippers, women and the elderly. It only targeted those innocent people. This is a Satanic, terrorist act, carried about by apostates,” Bilal Farhat told Associated Press.

Abdullah Jawad stated, “The government can’t protect us.” He continued, “They can’t even pick up the trash from the streets.” Lebanon’s government has been in a stalemate and as a result have been unable to resolve electricity and water shortages or the collapse of garbage collection.

Those in Lebanon were shocked over the weekend to hear about the attacks in France, as they considered that country safer than Lebanon. But the feelings of solidarity were also mixed with anguish that only one of the two cities had received global sympathy.  A doctor in Lebanon wrote, “When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag.”

The attacks in Paris may also lead European countries to close their doors to asylum seekers. One of the Paris attackers had posed as a refugee seeking asylum in order to get into Paris. A spokesman for the Syrian Canadian Council, Faisal Alazem, stated, “This is the sort of terrorism that Syrian refugees have been fleeing by the millions.”

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Lebanon Detains 7 Syrian, 2 Lebanese Terror Suspects – 15 November 2015

The New York Times – Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten – 15 November 2015

Reuters – Lebanon Arrests Five Syrians, One Palestinian Suspect in Beirut Bombings: Security Source – 14 November 2015

CNN – Beirut Suicide Bombings: Why Lebanon and What’s Next? – 13 November 2015

BBC News – Beirut Attacks: Suicide Bombers Kill Dozens in Shia Suburb – 12 November 2015