North Korean Refugees Testify at United Nations

GENEVA, September 22, 2023 — UN Watch in collaboration with the group Rights for Female North Koreans (RFNK) hosted an event today at the United Nations on the plight of North Korean refugees in China. 

Attended by numerous diplomats and NGO delegates, the event featured testimonies of gross and systematic violations by North Korean and Chinese authorities, and was held on the sidelines of the 54th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, where China’s record will be subject to a review in January.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, opened the panel sharing harrowing statistics on the mistreatment of North Koreans refugees in China where up to 80% of female refugees become victims of human traffickers who exploit them in an illicit sex trade industry that generates over $100 million annually. 

South Korea’s Ambassador the UN in Geneva, Mr. Seong deok Yun, noted several important steps taken by his country on the international stage to spotlight the plight of the North Korean people who suffer recurring imprisonment, torture, forced child separation, and sexual violence. Hcalled upon the international community to take decisive action against these human rights violations. 

Jeong-ah Kim, Korean activist, survivor and head of RFNK, bore witness about the devastating impact of Chinese forced repatriation policies on North Korean refugee mothers. She described the unimaginable trauma endured by North Korean women who were trafficked and became mothers in China, but were then forcefully repatriated back to Korea never to see their children again. Many of these children remain stateless with no access to education and health services.

Timothy Cho, activist and survivor, recounted the horrors of his four imprisonments in North Korean and Chinese prisons, in a powerful appeal for an “act of love and humanity” to save the lives and the livelihoods of his fellow North Korean people.

Son Myung-hee, survivor and two-time defector, spoke by video to share her tragic story as a North Korean mother who escaped, was sold to a Chinese man, then imprisoned and tortured by Chinese authorities, until she was forcefully separated from her child and repatriated back to North Korea, only to escape again. 

Their stories provided a sobering glimpse into the everyday experience of thousands of North Korean refugees who suffer abuses long after their escape from one of the world’s cruelest regimes.  They also provided moments of immense courage, extraordinary resilience and hope, with a call to international action to protect these desperate victims.


Hillel Neuer

“We urge the United Nations system to use its influenced to dissuade the Chinese government from forcibly repatriating these refugees”

“China is now running for re-election to this Human Rights Council. it is time that it ends complicity in the crimes against humanity committed in and by North Korea.”



Ambassador Seong deok Yun

“In this room, we stand united with a clear and unwavering mission: to raise global awareness, advocate for changes, and call upon the international community to take decisive action.”

full remarks


Jeong-ah Kim 

“The pain is unbearable. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of my daughter who was forcefully separated from me 14 years ago “

“The Chinese government’s two-decade-long passive stance, marked by its silence, has effectively endorsed the human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime.”

full remarks


Timothy Cho

“The Chinese soldiers starting shooting in our direction while 4 and 6 year old children, holding my hands, were screaming.”

“So what does our United Nations stand for – if not for the principle that all individuals are born free and equal in dignity and rights? No individual and nation was born to be in darkness and suffering “

full remarks

Screenshot 2023-09-26 at 5.15.45 PM

Son Myung-hee

“The severe torture culminated when my appendix burst … during the emergency appendix surgery, which was carried out without anesthesia, I remained handcuffed.”

“The continuous policies of forced repatriation not only strip us of our human rights but sever the bond between a mother and her child.”

“This treacherous escape was fueled by my maternal instinct – a desperate need to see my children and ensure they weren’t left motherless.”

UN Watch