ECHR Rules Russian Removal of North Korean Citizens to the DPRK Violated European Convention of Human Rights

By: Garrison Funk

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On Tuesday, March 19, 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Russian Federation violated Articles 2, 3, and 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights in its treatment, and later expulsion, of three North Korean citizens to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin meet in Vladivostok, Russia in April 2019. | Photo Credit Alexy Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images.

While Russia has not been a member of the European Convention since September 16, 2020, the relevant events took place prior to Russia’s separation, therefore granting the ECHR jurisdiction to review the case.

Two of the individuals in the case, referred to as K.J. and C.C., were captured in Russian territorial waters and convicted of illegal fishing in 2019, and sentenced to serve two years and one month in Russian prison. The third individual, S.K., was a student studying at the Far Eastern Federal university in Vladivostok, who later applied for asylum in 2020.

After finishing their prison terms, K.J. and C.C. were both detained for two more years pending expulsion to the DPRK, before finally being released again in 2022. In particular, the ECHR noted that Russian authorities took no steps to verify the reason for their detention. Additionally, foreign nationals detained in Russia pending an expulsion are unable to have their detention reviewed by Russian courts, thereby finding violations of Article 5 § 1 and Article 5 § 4 of the Convention.

Following S.K.’s asylum application in 2020, he was detained by Russian police before being handed over to DPRK consular staff by the Russian Federal Security Service. The same day, the ECHR issued an interim ruling barring the Russian government from expelling S.K. However, S.K. has not been heard from since then. Because of the high risk of torture and failure of the Russian court system to provide an adequate remedy to detainees, the ECHR found that this expulsion constituted violations of Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture), as it is presumed S.K. was abducted.

This is not the first instance of North Korean citizens attempting to gain refuge in Russia. Many North Koreans study in Vladivostok, often under the watchful eye of DPRK surveillance, and some attempt to escape to pursue their freedom. However, Russian security forces often assist the DPRK in the return of its citizens despite repeated admonishment from the ECHR and international community. Only a small fraction of the hundreds of North Korean refugees had their applications accepted.  

For more information, please see:

ECHR – Missing Student Risks Torture if Returned to North Korea – Mar. 19, 2024

ECHR – Judgment Concerning the Russian Federation – Mar. 19, 2024

Human Rights Watch – North Koreans Face Repatriation From Russia – Feb. 17, 2022

Crossing Borders – Why North Koreans Don’t Escape to Russia Instead of China – Oct. 16, 2021

Reuters – Russia Wants North Korea’s Money, Not Its Refugees – Jan. 25, 2017

Bangladesh People Silenced for Political Activism

By: Kendall Hay

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Senior Articles Editor

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Violence has recently been erupting in Bangladesh over the upcoming 2023 national election. The current regime has been actively working to silence anyone who chooses to speak out against them. The last general election in 2018 saw similar protests, and accounts of rigged election procedures were reported. The current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has been in power for 13 years and has won the last three consecutive elections.

Police clash with protesters. Photo courtesy of Reuters

The primary opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has been the prime target of violence and mass arrests. Leaders in this party have faced interrogation, torture, raids, and other methods intended to silence any resistance.

Although there have been peaceful protests, these demonstrations represent the voice of the people asking for the current leader to step down.

Pre-election violence has also ramped up against the relatives of those who are speaking out against the government. Because of loopholes in certain laws, some of these individuals have been arrested without a warrant and have been tortured for their political views without due cause. Police are not working to protect the people, but have been quelling any uprising by using rods, stones, and other means of violence in an effort to “maintain peace”.

The Bangladesh government has repeatedly upheld its stance on “democracy, human rights, and justice”, but as there continues to be an uptick in violence, many fear the election procedures will be no different than the last, which many claim were prejudiced and fraudulent.

Journalists are also currently living in apprehension of being tortured and silenced, and even fear for their lives for speaking out against the current government. Investigative journalists have recently been targeted, and several who have dared to speak out against the government have later been reported missing. One such case involved a journalist who reported on a sex-trafficking ring involving government officials, and then later was stated missing.  It has also been reported that these journalists have been interrogated in inhumane conditions and left in isolation.   

In addition to the unjust treatment of journalists, homes of BNP supporters have been raided, where police are targeting those opposed to the current regime. The BNP also claims that over 180,000 cases have been filed against members of their party in the last 10 years. Cases are also filed with unknown defendants, so that police have a wider berth of accused individuals which they can arrest, interrogate, and keep in custody.

The White House has recently called on the Bangladesh government to investigate the human rights abuses against journalists and activists as reports of injuries and deaths have reached the United States. The US has also asked that the government encourage peaceful protests without intimidation, violence, or fear. The US will continue to monitor the situation closely until the upcoming election.


For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Bangladesh: Crackdown on Political Opposition – Oct. 10, 2022

BBC – Bangladesh accused of violent crackdown on free speech – Dec. 10, 2022

CNN – Tens of thousands protest in Bangladesh to demand resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina – Dec. 11, 2022

AlJazeera – Bangladesh opposition stages protests as it challenges PM Hasina – Dec. 11, 2022

Reuters – White House calls on Bangladesh to investigate reports of pre-election violence – Dec. 9, 2022

Japan’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Deemed ‘Unconstitutional’ By District Court

By: Christian González

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

SAPPORO, Japan – On Wednesday, March 17th, a landmark ruling was made as one of the district courts for the Hokkaido prefecture found that Japan’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.

Lawyers and same-sex marriage supporters outside the Sapporo courthouse. The sign reads “BIG STEP FORWARD FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY.” Photo Courtesy of Reuters.

The ruling came from one of several cases that had been filed by same-sex couples on Valentine’s Day in 2019, in district courts in Tokyo, Sapporo, Osaka, and Nagoya. The District Court based in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s prefecture capital and largest city, made the first of such rulings.

Marriage is addressed in Article 24 of Japan’s constitution, and only defines marriage in terms of opposite-sex couples stating: “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.” While homosexuality has been legal in Japan since 1880, there has been no nationwide acceptance of same-sex unions, with only two wards in Tokyo allowing for ‘partnership certificates,’ since 2015. This creates issues for same-sex couples regarding rights of inheritance and paternity. Japan is also the only Group of Seven (G7) countries that does not recognize same-sex marriage or unions. Some have opined that Japan’s lag on same-sex marriage impacts it in the international economy, as foreign firms may be deterred from recruiting workers from Japan.

The ruling was made by presiding Judge Tomoko Takebe, who found that the government’s failure to recognize same-sex relationships violated the Constitution’s Article 14 guarantee of equality and freedom from discrimination. Judge Takebe also found that there was no violation of Article 24, since it explicitly deals with opposite-sex marriages and has no bearing on the allowance of same-sex marriage. Despite finding a constitutional violation, Judge Takebe rejected the plaintiffs’ claim for ¥1,000,000 (around $9,000 USD) in compensatory damages. She explained that she found no explicit violation of state reparations law.

The ruling comes as a sign of hope for same-sex couples in Japan. One plaintiff, who goes by the alias Rysuke Kunimi, said: “The chief judge said that the discrimination based on the natural difference of sexuality is a violation of Article 14. I could not stop crying.” The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Takeharu Kato, said he “never expected the court would rule this clearly,” and that the legal battle may be taken to a higher court.

Another couple who filed a complaint was Ai Nakajima and Tina Baumann. Nakajima and Baumann had met and were married in Germany, where Baumann is originally from. The couple then moved to Yokohama and applied for their marriage to be recognized, but their application was rejected. This created issues concerning Baumann’s visa status in the country. Regarding the new ruling, Nakajima said: “This is one huge step forward in Japan… we are moving closer to making our dream come true.”

The district court’s holding represents the first step in the government of Japan’s potential recognition of same-sex relationships. For that to happen, there would need to be a final ruling from the Supreme Court of Japan, or a law passed in the National Diet, Japan’s legislative body. Despite higher ratings approving of same-sex marriage amongst younger people, many argue that Japan’s ruling party, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, is unlikely to feel the same way. Regarding further victories in court, Mikiko Terahara, the executive director of Marriage For All Japan, believes that “the Sapporo ruling will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the ongoing same-sex marriage litigation in other regions.”

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Gay couples sue Japan over right to get married – 14 Feb. 2019

BBC News – Japan court finds same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional – 17 Mar. 2021

CNN – Japan’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage is ‘unconstitutional,’ court rules – 17 Mar. 2021

Constitute Project – Constitution of Japan 1946 – 3 May 1947

Marriage For All Japan – Home Page (Japanese) – accessed 21 Mar. 2021Marriage For All Japan – Home Page (Japanese) –  21 Mar. 2021

Supreme Court of Japan – Courts in Japan – 2020Supreme Court of Japan – Courts in Japan – 2020

The Japan Times – Japan court rules failure to recognize same-sex marriage unconstitutional – 17 Mar. 2021

TIME – A Court Ruled Japan’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban ‘Unconstitutional.’ Here’s What’s Next for LGBTQ Rights – 17 Mar. 2021

Olympic Medals and Championships… at What Cost?

By: Melissa N. Berouty 

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Managing Editor of the News

TOKYO, Japan A glimpse at the dictionary will tell you that a coach is “a person who teaches and trains an athlete or performer.” Yet, any athlete knows that the role of a coach stretches far beyond this simple definition. A coach can serve as a mentor, motivator, or even a catalyst for a young athlete to fall in love with their respective sport. Thus, a coach possesses a great deal of responsibility, power, and influence. However, for decades in Japan, coaches have prioritized Olympic medals and Championships over the safety and well-being of their child athletes, subjecting them to brutal physical and verbal beatings.

Child athlete abuse in the quest for Olympic gold medals. Photo Courtesy of Humanium.

While one might commonly hear tough coaches make tougher players, Japanese coaches utilize a training tactic that far exceeds tough coaching, referred to as taibatsu, or corporal punishment. Japanese child athletes report being “punched in the face, kicked, beaten with objects like bats or bamboo kendo sticks, being deprived of water, choked, whipped with whistles or racquets, and being sexually abused and harassed.” According to Human Rights Watch, in 2020, 425 current and former child athletes reported physical abuse at the hand of their coaches or trainers.

Recently, Japan amended the Child Welfare Act of 1947 to prohibit corporal punishment. While this prohibition does extend to athletics, the protection it offers child athletes is inadequate and irregularly enforced. Similarly, the 2013 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence in Sports and the 2019 government codes put forth by various leading sports organizations fails to specifically address child athlete abuse. Without clear legal implications for a failure to abide, these reforms carry little to no weight in ensuring the safety and welfare of child athletes.

“I was hit so many times I can’t count.” Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Under international law, governments are obligated to protect children’s right to not only participate in athletics but to participate in a safe environment, free of both abuse and violence. This right is detailed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Japan is a party to. With this, it is imperative for leading Japanese sports organizations, such as the Japan Sports Agency, the Japan Sport Association, and the Japanese Olympic Committee, to create clear and comprehensive reporting, investigation, and sanction protocols for child athlete abuse. Without the correction of these institutional failures, child athletes will remain vulnerable.

The Olympics are marketed as an idealistic and extraordinary meeting of the world’s most prominent and gifted athletes. To preserve this façade, numerous nations, from Japan to the United States, prioritize the quest for medals over athletes’ basic human rights. Meanwhile, these athletes, child and adult alike, still represent their countries with pride and dignity. But, at what cost?

In a matter of months, we will all sit down in front of our televisions to watch the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Here, the Japanese government has a unique opportunity to set the record straight and “serve as a model for how other countries should end child abuse in sports.” Japan should take the lead in demonstrating that child athletes’ health and well-being do not just simply matter, but that they are the priority.

Participation in athletics should be a root of joy, empowerment, and growth, not fear, abuse, and manipulation. While winning may be the ultimate goal, one day, these child athletes will move on from competition and the global spotlight. As you view the Olympics and Paralympics this summer, keep in mind that behind every uniform is a human being. A human being that should be offered all fundamental human rights both in and out of athletic competition. The abuse of child athletes is not exclusive to Japan and remains a pressing issue worldwide.

For further information, please see:

End Violence – Japan Prohibits all corporal punishment of children – 28 Feb. 2020

Human Rights Watch – Pressure Builds on Japan to Protect Child Athletes – 28 Jan. 2021

Human Rights Watch – I Was Hit So Many Times I Can’t Count: Abuse of Child Athletes in Japan – 20 July 2020

Merriam Webster Dictionary – Coach – 2 Apr. 2021


47 Hong Kong Activists Charged with “Conspiracy” Under New National Security Law Denied Bail

By: Timothy Murphy

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

HONG KONG, China — The ongoing strife in Hong Kong continues as 47 activists and politicians were charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” on February 28th. These pro-democracy activists, who were charged under the new “National Security Law,” had been arrested by authorities in early January of 2021. The National Security Law is another step in the string of continued attempts by mainland China to subvert the independence of the Hong Kong region.

Hundreds of Hong Kong citizens gathered in protest outside the courthouse as the 47 activists awaited charges. Photo Courtesy of BBC/Reuters.

The group that was charged consists of 39 men and 8 women and includes well-known figures who led pro-democratic movements in Hong Kong in the wake of Beijing’s strengthening grip on the region. Hong Kong, which was once a British colony, has long remained independent of its sovereign nation, China. Beginning in 2019, mainland China has been putting increased pressure on the freedom of Hong Kong, which has led to widespread protests from the citizens of the region.

The pro-democratic activists were arrested in January for running unofficial primary polls last summer in order to prepare for the upcoming election for Hong Kong’s legislative body: the Legislative Council. In a further attack on democratic principles, the election was postponed, the purported reason being safety precautions related to the pandemic. Officials have described these polls as an attempt to undermine the Hong Kong government.  

After four days of bail proceedings, fifteen of the activists were granted bail. However, they were not allowed to leave custody due to a subsequent appeal filed by prosecutors. Under the controversial National Security Law, they face up to life in prison for the charge of “conspiracy to commit subversion.”

In 2020, Beijing pushed for the creation of the “National Security Law” in an attempt to chip away at the independence and self-governance of Hong Kong. The law, which was put into effect on June 30th of 2020, reduces the self-governance powers of Hong Kong and criminalizes acts of secession, subversion against the central government, terrorism, and collusion. The law gives Beijing sweeping new powers to regulate the freedom of speech in Hong Kong, and even reserves interpretation of the broad law for Beijing: leaving room for even more power to be milked from the law with future judicial decisions. 

The passage of the National Security Law is a massive victory for mainland China in its efforts to further subjugate Hong Kong. It was met with protests from Hong Kong citizens. The charges laid against the 47 activists makes it clear that it is only becoming more dangerous for Hong Kong citizens to speak out against mainland China’s attempts to further subjugate the region.

For further information, please see:

BBC NEWS – Hong Kong charges 47 activists in largest use yet of new security law – 2 Mar. 2021

BBC NEWS – Hong Kong protest held as 47 activists appear in court – 1 Mar. 2021

BBC NEWS – Hong Kong security law: What is it and is it worrying? – 30 June 2021

Hong Kong Free Press – 47 democrats charged with ‘conspiracy to commit subversion’ over legislative primaries – 28 Feb. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Hong Kong: 47 Charged Under Abusive Security Law – 2 Mar. 2021

South China Morning Post – National security law: 15 out of 47 Hong Kong opposition figures granted bail, but ordered to remain in custody pending prosecutors’ appeal – 4 Mar. 2021

South China Morning Post – Hong Kong national security law: election bans, travel curbs, and more time in jail. What future awaits city’s opposition with 47 defendants charged in biggest case yet? – 5 Mar. 2021

The Economist – Hong Kong’s new security bill is being put to its biggest use yet – 6 Mar. 2021