The U.S. envoy for human rights in North Korea urged China to improve its treatment of North Korean defectors and expressed hope the United States could also become an accessible haven for some refugees.
"We have called on China to live up to its own international obligations," Jay Lefkowitz told a news conference, saying Beijing should grant the U.N. refugee agency access to the border region. "We will continue to try to work cooperatively with the Chinese."
Lefkowitz said the issue of North Korean refugees was one of the "real personal human tragedies" of the situation around rights in the communist nation.
At a Seoul conference on human rights in the North, activists repeats calls to China not to send North Korean defectors back to their communist homeland, where they can face harsh punishment.
Joel Charny, vice president of Washington-based Refugees International, said no solution will be possible unless China changes its policy - something critics expect is unlikely to happen in the near future. Still, he said tough measures - like sanctions and campaigns to either boycott or switch the venue of 2008 Beijing Olympics - would grab Chinese attention but also backfire.
Human rights activists also criticized the United States for being reluctant to accept ordinary North Korean defectors who sought asylum in American missions abroad.
Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea, said U.S. diplomats refused to accept North Korean defectors in China, Vietnam and Thailand over the past six months. "They told me, 'Don't bring them here to the U.S. embassy, please take them to the UNHCR office,'" Peters said.
[Excerpted from Forbes magazine]