UN to Probe Defection of North Korean Restaurant Staff in China

Nicholas Kim, July 9, 2018, 8:25 a.m.


The UN is to probe the defection of a group of North Korean restaurant workers in China, which North Korea claims is an abduction. UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights Tomás Ojea Quintana, who arrived in Seoul on July 2, told VOA on Friday that he plans to interview the 12 women who had escaped from the Ryugyong restaurant in China and flew to South Korea.

"The very main principal issue that we need to pay attention in this case is what is the will and what is the interest of this restaurant workers," Quintana said. "What is needed… is a credible and thorough investigation about what happened two years ago with these restaurant workers."

North Korea has demanded the return of them, who it believes were abducted by the South, and a South Korea cable channel reported that the escape was assisted by the South's National Intelligence Service. He will give a press briefing on his findings on Tuesday and submit a report to a session of the UN General Assembly in October.

Suzanne Scholte, a leading member of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea in Washington, told VOA she respects Quintana but "this issue was clearly decided already and further investigation is absurd."

Scholte warned that if the women's identity is made public, it could will lead to more executions in the North. "If they are sent back, they will be interrogated… It will mean that the lives of all North Koreans in South Korea are at grave risk," she said.

Roberta Cohen, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for human rights, told VOA that it is vital to establish whether they really want to go back and whether they are under any kind of pressure from North Korea. 

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