North Korean and Russian officials on Tuesday signed a new treaty on the extradition of imprisoned individuals, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Wednesday.
President of the DPRK Central Court Kang Yun Sok and Russian Minister of Justice Alexander Konovalov reportedly signed “a treaty of extradition of those given a verdict of deprivation of freedom between the DPRK and the Russian Federation.”
A delegation of the Central Court of the DPRK led by Kang and North Korean ambassador to Russia Kim Hyong Jun, as well as representatives from the Russian Ministry of Justice, reportedly attended the signing ceremony in Moscow.
The agreement was originally approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin in October last year, and will see prisoners with a more than six-month jail term be transferred, if they request it, to serve the rest of their sentence in their countries of origin.
The treaty includes an obligation to share information on their respective prisoners, means to request and approve transfers, methods and procedures for their transfer, and a clause guaranteeing non bis in idem – that prisoners sent home cannot be convicted of the same crime again.
Russia has signed similar agreements with numerous countries, including China and Afghanistan, with an agreement between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China signed in December 2002 in Beijing and ratified by the Russian Duma in June 2006.
One North Korea watcher said the treaty would likely not be used to forcefully repatriate North Korean workers, though there have been concerns over previous extradition treaties between Pyongyang and Moscow being used to forcibly repatriate refugees and asylum seekers.
“Such a treaty seems to be a standard practice for Russia, as similar treaties exist with many neighboring countries, including, for example, Lithuania,” Fyodor Tertitskiy, a scholar of North Korean history, told NK News.
“The important part is that a person cannot be extradited with his/her written consent, so this probably will not lead to people being sent from Russia to North Korea against their will.”
While Russian citizens in the DPRK are overwhelming diplomatic staff or aid workers, thousands of North Koreans live and work in Russia as laborers, on projects ranging from football stadiums to water parks and apartment blocks.
Pyongyang and Moscow have in recent years moved to bolster bilateral legal cooperation, with the two signing “a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal cases and a treaty on extradition of criminals” in Pyongyang in November 2015.
“The treaty specifies the terms of extradition of the persons who have committed criminal offences and includes requirements to the form and content of an extradition request as well as how the request must be fulfilled,” the Russian government said in a memo providing details on the agreement.
Marzuki Darusman, the then-UN special rapporteur on North Korea, said he was “disappointed” by Russia’s signing of the treaty.
“Despite Russia’s assurance that this treaty will not be used to return anybody at risk of persecution, I am deeply concerned that it could de facto facilitate forced repatriation of DPRK asylum seekers,” Darusman said. “This may put the returnees at risk of serious violations, including torture.”
Russia and North Korea also signed another treaty on the extradition of illegal immigrants in Moscow in February last year, described at the time as “an agreement on hand-over and take-over of illegal entrants and sojourners and a protocol of implementation of the agreement.”
One South Korean expert said the new treaty may be used to repatriate illegal North Korean immigrants.
“There are a large number of North Korean workers in Russia including Saint Petersburg and the Far East,” Lee Kyu-chang, Director of Unification Policy Studies Division at Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), told NK News. “There are many cases of workers turning into illegal immigrants after fleeing their working places.”
“Russia signed this treaty to strengthen its measures against North Korean workers.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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