[General]NKDB Issue Brief: UN Security Resolution 2397 (Paragraph 8) and the Repatriation of North Korean Workers

24 Dec 2019
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NKDB Issue Brief: UN Security Resolution 2397 (Paragraph 8) and the Repatriation of North Korean Workers



1. Background information

§   According to the text of paragraph 8 of resolution 2397 (adopted in December 2017) UN member states are obliged to send back to the DPRK all North Korean workers residing on their territories.

§   According to the UN Security Council as of 16 December 2019 48 Member States have submitted reports on the implementation of paragraph 8 of resolution 2397 (2017). The number of repatriated North Korean workers estimated by the submitted reports is about 23,000 people.

§   China is one of the countries, which has not submitted a report revealing the number of workers send back to the DPRK. The number of North Korean workers residing in China is estimated to be about 80,000 people.

§   With the exception of Equatorial Guinea, countries such as Nigeria, Congo, Cameroon, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe that host North Korean workers have not submitted their reports.

§   On 16 December this year China and Russia submitted a draft resolution proposing package of sanctions relief for North Korea. In relation to such measures taken by the DPRK’s long-term allies and the opposition of North Korea itself to the repatriation of its workers, there is a strong need for extensive monitoring of the implementation of paragraph 8 after 22 December.


2. Results from the field investigations in China conducted by NKDB’s North Korea Human Rights Watch Functions division

§   Since 2015 NKDB has made consistent effort to evaluate the human rights and labour conditions of North Korean workers in China by conducting five rounds of field investigations.

§   NKDB has conducted investigations on a large part of China’s territory in areas such as Shanghai, Jiangsu Province, Zhejiang Province, Guangdong Province, Shandong Province and Hebei Province, including three North-eastern provinces (Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning). As a result, the organization has uncovered information on the locations of over 100 workplaces employing North Koreans, as well as the number of workers, produced goods and their distribution routes.

§   According to NKDB’s investigation the total estimated number of North Korean workers in China is about 80,000, with 60,000 of them working in the three North-eastern provinces (Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning). Most of the workers are employed in restaurants, factories, farms and the IT sector.


3. North Korean defector testimonies related to the dispatch of North Korean workers overseas

§   Despite the UN resolution imposing sanctions on the DPRK, as of June 2019 the North Korean state has continued to dispatch workers overseas.

§   After the failed Hanoi summit in February this year, there has been a directive issued to government units at the fourth plenary session of the 7th Term Workers’ Party of Korea to continue the dispatch of North Korean workers and to switch from inter-governmental to private business contracts.

§   There are many cases in which in order to avoid the sanctions North Korean workers are dispatched to China not on work visas but on short-term visitor ones.


4. NKDB’s North Korea Human Rights Watch Functions Division’s Opinion

§   Even after the deadline (22 December, 2019) for the return of all North Korean workers residing overseas, the North Korean authorities are likely to find different ways to circumvent resolution 2397 by sending the labourers on visas different from the official work visa, which needs to be issued following general regulations. Especially in the case of China, which is close to North Korea and as a result it is time- and cost-effective to transport workers there, it is expected that even more North Koreans will be dispatched to Chinese provinces on short-term visas. Such suspicion is further prompted by the current negotiations between China and the DPRK for simplification of the existing procedures for personal exchanges between the two countries. In the event that the current 1-month visa-free sojourn period for North Korean nationals in China is extended, then it will be possible to dispatch North Korean workers to the country without filling out the proper documentation. This would ultimately lead to a situation in which it is almost impossible to confirm the number of North Korean workers in China as there will be no official documentation associated with their sojourn in the country. Consequently, it will be harder for the international community to collect documentary proof associated with the implementation of the sanctions.

§   In relation to the strong need for investigation on the compliance with resolution 2397 after 22 December this year, NKDB’s North Korea Human Rights Watch Functions Division plans to conduct monitoring of the implementation of paragraph 8 of the resolution regarding the dispatch and repatriation of North Korean workers to not only China but other countries worldwide.


5. The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB)’s divisions are involved in different aspects of work related to North Korean human rights.

§   The North Korean Human Rights Archives performs systematic investigation and documentation of cases of human rights violations in the DPRK

§   The North Korea Human Rights Watch Functions perform effective monitoring of specific human rights categories and through regular reports and publications aim at practical solutions of the issues

§   The Resettlement Assistance Headquarters provides professional support to North Korean defectors resettled in South Korea. It provides education on integration, resettlement and counseling services to victims, returned prisoners of war, North Korean defectors excluded from South Korean government’s resettlement support program.

§   The Education Center for Korean Integration designs educational programs targeting the general public in order to improve its knowledge of the human rights situation in the DPRK and to emphasize the importance of social integration between South and North Korea. The programs executed or planned by the Center are North Korean Human Rights Academy, Unification Diplomacy Academy, Academy on Psychological Counseling for North Korean Defectors and Social Integration, Together for Unification Academy, and Leadership Academy for North Korean Youth.


The North Korea Human Rights Watch Division is specifically focusing on testimonies and documents that contain information, which have the potential to achieve actual ripple effects inside North Korea. The Watch Division conducts its work in the following focus areas: (1) Death Penalty in North Korea; (2) North Korean Detention Facilities; (3) Religious Freedom in North Korea; (4) Overseas North Koreans’ Human Rights, (5) ABC Weapons-related Human Rights; (6) North Korean Narcotic Drugs; (7) UN Recommendations Implementation; and (8) Human Rights in the North Korean Military.