Press briefing notes on North Korean defectors and Papua New Guinea

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 31 May 2013
Subject: 1) North Korean defectors
2) Papua New Guinea

1) North Korean defectors

Yesterday, press releases were issued yesterday by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and by UNHCR about a group of North Korean defectors who had been returned from Laos to China. Unfortunately, since those press releases were issued we have received credible information that the nine young North Korean defectors were subsequently returned to DPRK via China.

We are extremely concerned for the protection of this group, which includes up to five minors, who are at risk of severe punishment and ill-treatment upon their return.

We are dismayed that the Governments of Laos and China appear to have abrogated their non-refoulement obligations, especially given the vulnerability of this group, all of whom are reported to be orphans.

We urge the Chinese and Laotian authorities to publicly clarify the fate of the nine young North Koreans, as well as the conditions under which they were returned, and request the Government of DPRK to provide immediate access to the group by independent actors to verify their status and treatment.

2) Papua New Guinea

We regret that Papua New Guinea has taken legislative action towards resuming implementation of the death penalty through amendments to the Criminal Code passed by Parliament on 28 May. The amended Code provides for five methods of execution and extends the application of the death penalty to three additional crimes: sorcery-related killings, aggravated rape and robbery with violence.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) has maintained a long standing de facto moratorium since 1954 which was subsequently passed into law in 1970. Given the global trend toward abolition of the death penalty, the latest move by the Government marks a significant step backwards.

We strongly urge the Government not to proceed with any executions under the new law without first undertaking inclusive and meaningful consultations on the whole issue of the death penalty. We also categorically reject calls by some political leaders in Papua New Guinea. for the introduction of other cruel and inhuman punishments such as castration or amputation.

The use of capital punishment has never been proved to be a more effective deterrent than other forms of punishment. While recognising the Government’s commitment to achieving a safer and more secure society, we urge it to consider other alternatives in line with international human rights standards. Such efforts must address the root causes of the rampant violence and corruption reported in the country, including through the creation of awareness.

In this regard, we welcome the repeal of the 1971 Sorcery Act and plans by the Government to strengthen its law enforcement agencies, and to establish an independent anti-corruption institution as positive steps forward.

Since 2007, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted four resolutions calling on States to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to abolition. The movement towards abolition has gained ground in every region, spanning different legal systems, traditions, customs and religious backgrounds. Today about 150 of the UN’s 193 Member States have either abolished the death penalty or no longer practise it.

We strongly urge the Government of Papua New Guinea once more to maintain its moratorium and subsequently join the growing number of Member States that have abolished the practice altogether, including 11 States in the Pacific.


For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 /; Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 93 10 /; or Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9434 /

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