Susanna Mehtonen, a legal adviser at Amnesty Finland, reveals that the knowledge of the human rights watchdog of a scientist who purportedly defected from North Korea to Finland is limited to reports by Yonhap.

The news agency reported on Thursday that a North Korean expert in biochemical weapons defected to Finland in early June with gigabytes of evidence of human experiments.

“North Korea is a very closed country. It's practically impossible to travel out of there. These defections are isolated occurrences,” says Mehtonen.

Neither the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior nor the Finnish Immigration Service has been able to confirm the defection. A defector could theoretically enter Finland as an asylum seeker, a refugee or in certain cases on a residence permit granted on the basis of family ties, studies or employment, according to Mehtonen.

Statistics maintained by the Finnish Immigration Service show that a total of four asylum seekers arrived in Finland from North Korea last year. The number varied between one and two in the couple of years before that.

Finnish immigration authorities had received no asylum applications from North Korean citizens by the end of May.

Yonhap writes that the defector has worked at a microbiology research centre in Ganggye and is set to testify before the European Parliament later in July to cast light on the human experiments allegedly conducted by North Korea.

Mehtonen tells that the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea suspects that human experiments have taken place but has yet to produce evidence to corroborate its suspicions. “It's interesting if new evidence has indeed come to light,” she says.

Both Amnesty and the United Nations consider the human rights situation in North Korea appalling.

The central administration has according to Mehtonen committed serious human rights violations. “Hundreds of people are sitting in prison camps without having been charged with or found guilty of any crimes. Disappearances, systematic torture and illegal executions take place there,” she lists.

Amnesty and the United Nations have proposed that the UN Security Council transfer the investigation into the alleged violations to the International Criminal Court. Mehtonen also believes independent human rights investigators should be allowed to enter the country.

“If a defection such as this has indeed taken place, it only confirms the need for investigators.”

CORRECTION (7 July 2015): Amnesty and the United Nations have proposed that the investigation into the alleged violations be transferred to the International Criminal Court, not to the International Court of Justice as the story initially stated. Helsinki Times regrets the error.

Verna Vuoripuro – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT