The U.N. special rapporteur for North Korea's human rights on Tuesday expressed concern over the increased risk of forced repatriations of defectors to the North following the country's eased COVID-19 border controls.
"I am extremely concerned about the imminent risk of forced repatriation of North Koreans detained in other countries," Elizabeth Salmon, the U.N. special rapporteur, said at a press conference held in Seoul.
Salmon has been in South Korea since Sept. 4 for a nine-day trip to meet with government officials, North Korean defectors and rights groups, as she will submit a report on the North's rights issues to the U.N. based on the results of her trip.
As North Korea appears to be opening up its borders after years of stringent COVID-19 lockdown, concerns have grown that defectors could be forcibly repatriated to the North.
She said the U.N. human rights mechanisms "have regularly raised concerns" with member states that forcibly repatriated individuals to North Korea are at "real risk of torture and other ill-treatment" upon their return.
Salmon, in particular, noted that repatriated female escapees were subject to invasive body searches aimed at searching for money hidden in their private parts.
Still, the U.N. special rapporteur said she welcomes the opening of the borders by North Korea and expressed hope for Pyongyang to restart its engagement with the international community and the human rights mechanisms.
"The return of the U.N. country team to the DPRK is an urgent priority," Salmon said. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.
Source: Yonhap News Agency