I cannot recommend the Orphan Master's Son strongly enough for some excellent insights into the horrors of north Korea (despite it being a work of fiction it is well researched and aligns with many of the actual first hand accounts we have heard – the plot is far fetched but the way the society is run and the horrors people experience I think are based on reality).
But regarding this incident, this is a powerful conclusion to this OpEd:
Xi's government regularly commits the 21st-century equivalent of sending Jews back to the Nazis, each time as a witting accomplice in the Kim regime's crimes. America shouldn't become an accessory through its silence
- June 4, 2013, 9:33 a.m. ET
The Orphan Master's Accomplices
China and Laos aid send refugees back to the North Korean gulag.
The 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Orphan Master's Son" describes in horrifying detail the lives of North Koreans trapped inside the Kim regime's gulag-state. In April, nine teenagers and young adults probably thought they were leaving that oppression behind when they escaped their country. They traveled thousands of miles through China to Laos, from whence they might have been able to reach South Korea. Instead, Vientiane turned them over to Chinese and North Korean authorities, who returned them to the North last month. They face forced labor or execution for their escape attempt.
The case casts light anew on Pyongyang's accomplices, especially China. Both Laos and China contravened international norms for handling refugees, especially a prohibition on returning asylum-seekers to countries where they would face retribution. This is standard Chinese procedure for treating North Korean defectors, but until now Laos tacitly allowed South Korean officials to handle such refugees. The reasons for Vientiane's change of heart remain unclear.
Neither government can plead ignorance about the fate awaiting the nine. North Korean law criminalizes emigration. A long and growing list of reports based on the testimony of defectors—including from the South Korean National Human Rights Commission—document conditions in the Kim regime's prison camps.
The U.N. will soon begin its own formal investigation of Pyongyang's rights abuses, especially its gulag. For now, several U.N. agencies have raised the alarm about the nine refugees. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on Thursday said his agency "is deeply concerned about the safety and fundamental human rights of these individuals if they are returned to [North Korea]."
Also on Thursday, the U.N.'s current special rapporteur on North Korean rights issues, Marzuki Darusman, said that "all the concerned authorities have an urgent responsibility to ensure [the refugees'] protection."
As if on cue, Beijing on Friday condemned the U.N. statements. "We hope that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [under whose aegis Mr. Darusman operates] does not make irresponsible remarks based on unspecified news," Hong Lei of the foreign ministry said at a press briefing. Beijing's problem is that all the known facts undermine China's claim that North Korean defectors are economic migrants not eligible for the protections afforded refugees.
(Continued at the link below)