GENEVA, Switzerland, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Human Rights Watch has called on China to recognize North Korean defectors as refugees.
John Fisher, the advocacy director at HRW's Geneva office, said in a statement North Koreans who are forcibly repatriated by Chinese authorities are a highly vulnerable group, South Korean outlet Newsis reported.
Human Rights Watch said China should allow North Koreans leaving their homeland to cross through China without fear of arrest and involuntary repatriation, because Pyongyang has repeatedly penalized defectors for leaving the country.
Fisher said in the past two decades there have been many cases of forced repatriation and abductions in China of North Korean defectors, Chinese nationals and South Korean citizens residing in China. North Korean agents are often involved, he said.
"North Korea has systematically engaged in the abusive practice of enforced disappearances and irreparably damaged the lives of abductees and their families, some of whom are still demanding accountability more than 50 years later," Fisher said Monday at an event that occurred during the 30th regular session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Human Rights Watch has stated China is not only bound by international law pertaining to refugees, but is also a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
China's relations with North Korea have deteriorated since Kim Jong Un fully assumed power in 2012, but Beijing continues to repatriate North Koreans, including 29 people in 2014, according to the U.N.
In other areas, however, the two allies have been at odds over North Korea's nuclear weapons development, and Pyongyang recently boycotted a China-sponsored nuclear seminar in Beijing.
During the seminar on Saturday, in a warning to Pyongyang, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said North Korea has an obligation to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions, South Korean newspaper Donga Ilbo reported.
"They ought to be strictly observed," Wang said in translation.