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International community urged to jointly help resolve North Korea’s abductions issue

Astring of international efforts have urged North Korea to accept responsibility for and resolve its abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and ’80s – but, so far, Pyongyang has yet to provide any convincing explanations. The abductees are still denied all freedoms and remain detained in North Korea. U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in each raised the abductions issue during their summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held since last year.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly mentioned his determination to meet face-to-face with Chairman Kim, without setting any preconditions. Trump and Xi both support Abe’s initiative. Most recently, Trump met Kim at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea on June 30, and the leaders agreed to kick diplomacy back into gear after their February 2019 summit talks in Vietnam ended with no deal.

The ball is in Kim’s court over whether to heed international calls to resolve the abductions issue. The Government of Japan has identified 17 Japanese abduction victims, and there are 882 missing Japanese for whom the possibility of abduction by North Korea cannot be ruled out. There are also indications that citizens from South Korea, Thailand, Lebanon, Romania and other nations were abducted by North Korea.

Against the backdrop of recent diplomatic developments, a symposium titled “International cooperation to resolve the abductions issue as a global issue” was held at the United Nations headquarters in New York on May 10, 2019.

At the symposium, families of abductees by North Korea told the audience about their many years of suffering and urged Pyongyang to immediately resolve the abductions issue. Experts on North Korean affairs stressed the importance of focusing more on human rights issues, including the abductions, in negotiations with North Korea.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who also serves as Minister in Charge of the Abduction Issue, delivered a keynote speech and pressed North Korea to find a solution to outstanding issues, including the abductions. “North Korea is blessed with untapped natural resources and a workforce that could greatly enhance productivity,” Suga said. “If North Korea chooses the right path, it can draw a bright future for itself.”

The Government of Japan, the U.S. government and the European Union delegation cohosted the symposium. Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, acted as the moderator.

Families’ testimonials

Victims’ families from Japan, U.S. and Thailand denounce human rights violations by North Korea, demand immediate return of all abductees

Takuya Yokota,
Secretary-General of the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea Victim info

The families of Japanese, U.S. and Thai victims of human rights violations committed by North Korea have condemned these atrocious actions and demanded the immediate return of their loved ones.

The families spoke at a symposium held at the United Nations headquarters in New York several months after the U.S.-North Korea summit in Vietnam ended with no deal on February 26, 2019, leaving the prospect of resolving the abductions issue in limbo, and before the U.S. and North Korean leaders met at the demilitarized zone on the Korean Peninsula on June 30. Having these families tell the stories of their relatives who were brutally and inhumanly treated by North Korea is crucial for raising international awareness about North Korea’s abductions.

“Why was an innocent 13-year-old private citizen be treated this way?” asked Takuya Yokota, whose sister, Megumi , was abducted by North Korean agents on her way home from school in 1977. “According to a former agent who defected from North Korea, Megumi was pushed under the deck of a North Korean spy ship. She was crying out, desperately saying, ‘Mom, help me!’ from a locked room. Her fingers were stained with blood, but she continued banging the door.”

“My sister was a cheerful girl with a sunny disposition. She was always smiling and chatting with people,” he said. “She was a hardworking student interested in various subjects. I am sure she had dreams for her future. (But now) she must be thinking somebody will rescue her eventually, as she waits to return to Japan and see her father, mother and brothers.”

“If we can harness the will and courage of everybody here today, we will be able to make her wish come true,” Yokota said.

Koichiro Iizuka,
Vice Secretary-General of the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea Victim info

Koichiro Iizuka was only 1 year old when North Korean agents abducted his mother, Yaeko Taguchi. Iizuka recounted his feelings about North Korea’s claim in 2002 that Taguchi died in a traffic accident many years after her abduction. “I was devastated by that news. I thought I would never meet my mother (who I don’t remember seeing),” he said. “I can’t express very well how I felt at that time, but I remember crying a lot.”

Iizuka later found out explanations and documents provided by North Korea contradicted details known about his mother’s life in the reclusive state. “I think North Korea fabricated a story to make her appear dead and conceal her existence,” Iizuka said. “She’s still alive in North Korea, waiting to be rescued.

“The families (in Japan) just earnestly want to live peacefully with our loved ones. More than 30 or 40 years have passed since the abductions. Some of their parents and brothers and sisters have died without seeing them. This issue cannot be left unresolved any longer.”

James Sneddon,
Brother of David Sneddon Victim info

James Sneddon, whose younger brother, David, likely was abducted by North Korea while traveling in China in 2004, said the abductions issue “brings a grown man to tears, because it is not only my family” who is affected. Sneddon explained how his brother went missing and, based on confirmed witness accounts on David’s path, ended up in North Korea. “David is currently held against his will” in North Korea, Sneddon said.

The families also denounced North Korea’s treatment of its own citizens. “Reports by those released spoke of horrific atrocities, including regular torture, exhausting work regimes, illness, starvation and executions, even of children,” Sneddon said. “Yes, David is a victim and an abductee of North Korea’s callous, cruel and inhumane regime, but all citizens of that regime suffer equally through daily atrocities, acts of the state that are simply criminal.”

Fred Warmbier,
Father of Otto Warmbier Victim info

Fred Warmbier, whose eldest son, Otto, died in 2017 soon after being released in a comatose state with severe brain damage following a 17-month detention in North Korea, also delivered stinging criticism of North Korea’s actions. Warmbier expressed anger that the world allows Kim to abuse North Korean citizens while he lives extravagantly. “He is a criminal,” Warmbier said. “If we are afraid to tell the truth of who we’re dealing with, we don’t stand a chance at making a difference.”

“Japan needs to develop a pathway so that its citizens that have been horribly abused by this tyrant, have a pathway to seek justice for the treatment. If we aren’t willing to stand up to North Korea, if we’re going to coddle this guy and enable him, we’re going to have these same conversations five and 10 years from now,” Warmbier said.

North Korea’s human rights violations, including the abductions of foreign nationals, are a grave concern to the international community. The 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) said the “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” in many instances entailed “crimes against humanity based on state policies.”

Banjong Panchoi,
Nephew of Anocha Panchoi Victim info

From Thailand, Banjong Panchoi spoke about his aunt, Anocha, who North Korea reportedly abducted in 1978 while she worked in Macau. “Our family still has hope (she will return) and that’s the reason I am here today,” Banjong said, adding his family receives support from nongovernmental and other organizations, including the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, a Japanese organization.

Five officially identified Japanese victims returned to Japan in 2002 following then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s admission that his country had committed abductions. Regarding the other 12 officially identified victims, North Korea claims eight of them have died and that four others have never entered its territory. In addition to these 17 abductees, the Government of Japan has been gathering information on and investigating the cases of the 882 missing persons for whom the possibility of abduction cannot be ruled out. The Government of Japan has been making concerted efforts to urge North Korea to return all the abductees, regardless of whether they are officially identified as such, back to Japan immediately.

Miho Yoshimi,
Secretary of the Family Association of the Missing Persons Probably Related to the DPRK Victim info

Miho Yoshimi, a sister of Miwa Akita, who went missing in 1985, attended the symposium as a representative of the Family Association of the Missing Persons Probably Related to the DPRK.

She said missing Japanese for whom abduction cannot be ruled out share some common traits.

– Many are from the same districts, such as Kawaguchi City in Saitama Prefecture and Nada Ward in Kobe City.

– Many were middle or high school students in the 1960s, many were couples or parents with children in the ’70s, and many were young women in the mid-’80s to early ’90s.

“In a considerable number of cases, they were reportedly seen in North Korea or photos of them taken in North Korea (reached Japan),” Yoshimi said. “We want only to bring our relatives home…Whenever I meet the abductees’ families, I feel angry that the abductions completely changed the lives of the abductees held in North Korea and also many of their relatives in Japan.”

Yokota and Iizuka said the presence of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, a key member of the Cabinet, at the symposium would amplify their messages. In a rare overseas trip, Suga also met U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and other high-ranking government officials in Washington D.C. to seek cooperation on the abductions issue.

Before the symposium, Yokota, Iizuka and Cindy Warmbier, Otto Warmbier’s mother, attended a seminar held at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington D.C. on May 3 to address the abductions issue. The seminar was co-sponsored by the institute, the Government of Japan and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, headed by Greg Scarlatoiu, who moderated this symposium.

Panel Discussion

Experts urge greater focus on human rights situation

Greg Scarlatoiu,
Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

During a panel discussion at the symposium, three experts addressed North Korea’s human rights violations, including the abductions issue. The panelists were Junya Nishino from Japan; Evans J.R. Revere from the United States; and Jung Hoon Lee from the Republic of Korea. Greg Scarlatoiu moderated the discussion.

While denouncing North Korea’s brutal human rights violations, the panelists warned against allowing these violations, including the abductions issue, to take a backseat to high-profile efforts to denuclearize North Korea.

Junya Nishino,
Professor, Keio University, Japan

“We tend to focus on the nuclear issue in the current negotiation process with North Korea, but we should pay more attention to the whole picture of North Korean problems, including the abductions issue and the human rights situation there,” Junya Nishino said. “We should remind all parties involved in negotiations with North Korea that avoiding the topic of human rights could jeopardize a sustainable agreement in the future.”

Nishino was referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s summit talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018 and Vietnam in February 2019, and with Chinese President Xi Jinping three times in 2018 (Xi also visited Pyongyang in June 2019), South Korean President Moon Jae-in three times in 2018 and Russian President Vladimir Putin in April 2019, during which they talked about denuclearization. Trump, Xi and Moon told the Government of Japan they raised the abductions issue with Kim.

Jung Hoon Lee,
Former Ambassador-at-large on North Korean Human Rights, Republic of Korea

Jung Hoon Lee agreed: “North Korea is extremely sensitive about the international community’s image of its human rights condition. I think the real strategy in dealing with North Korea, particularly if we genuinely wanted to resolve issues like abduction, is to really focus on human rights issues.”

Lee said the Japanese abduction cases could serve as a litmus test for North Korea gaining a minimum level of credibility and worthiness to receive economic assistance from the international community.

The panelists were united in urging North Korea to resolve the abductions issue if it wanted to be accepted as a normal country by the international community and receive economic aid to boost its development.

Evans J.R. Revere,
Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, United States of America

Evans J.R. Revere, who directly discussed the cases of American and Japanese citizens with North Korean officials over many years, said, “It is time for Pyongyang to reveal the truth” about the abductees’ whereabouts.

Revere said the best way to persuade North Korea to do so is to remind the regime that its future economic success and diplomatic normalization with Japan and the United States depend on resolving all outstanding issues, including human rights-related concerns.

“For all the families, the suffering continues, and so does their search for the truth about their loved ones, as well as their struggle for justice and closure,” he said. “All of this requires us to hold the North Korean regime accountable. We must continue to demand investigations into the whereabouts of those who disappeared, and we must demand that those who are still alive be returned to their families.”

The Government of Japan is ready to provide economic assistance if outstanding issues are resolved and bilateral relations are normalized. “If North Korea shows a sincere attitude and takes concrete action to solve the issue, the Japanese government is prepared to improve the relationship with North Korea in accordance with the 2002 Pyongyang Declaration,” Nishino said.

The declaration, which was issued by then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, set a comprehensive roadmap to diplomatic normalization, including the settlement of issues related to the “unfortunate past” and Japan’s economic assistance to North Korea.

“In regard to the Japanese abductees, it is true that all Japanese have been really angry at North Korea’s criminal behavior,” Nishino said. “But the most important thing at this point…is that the abductees come safely back to Japan and are reunited with their families immediately…Time is really running out.”

Suga’s U.S. visit

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga visited the United States on May 9-12, 2019, to discuss North Korean issues and seek U.S. cooperation in resolving the abductions issue. He met U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. Suga also delivered a keynote speech at the symposium titled “International cooperation to resolve the abductions issue as a global issue.”

Yoshihide Suga
Chief Cabinet Secretary and Minister in Charge of the Abduction Issue

“I was able to confirm (with the U.S. officials) that our countries will fully implement the UN Security Council resolutions (against North Korea) and that we will closely cooperate toward an early resolution of the abductions issue,” Suga told reporters in New York after the symposium. Referring to the symposium, Suga said, “I felt the pain of family members (of the abductees) and called for understanding and cooperation of the international community toward an immediate resolution of the abductions issue.”

Following are excerpts from Suga’s keynote speech.

I have personally met with several family members of abductees especially since I took over the position of Minister in Charge (of the Abduction Issue) to directly hear their stories and their hope for reunions. Last November, I visited the spot in Niigata where Ms. Megumi Yokota was taken away by North Koreans when she was only 13. It was heart-wrenching to witness that place, which is less than 100 meters away from her home.

Can you imagine the agony of the victims who have been waiting for over 40 years far away from home to be rescued and the long-suffering families desperately waiting for their return? I’m left without words when I think about what they must have gone through.

Abduction is a grave issue that concerns our national sovereignty and public life and safety. It is a challenge for which the government must take responsibility in proactively seeking a resolution. The Japanese government continues to exert maximum effort by mobilizing all available resources within the government to realize the return of all abductees at the earliest possible timing.

At the same time, our government has been taking advantage of every possible opportunity on the diplomatic front through multilateral frameworks and bilateral consultations to raise the abduction issue. Indeed, the United States and other governments have expressed understanding and support for Japan’s position. Recently, at the second U.S.-DPRK summit meeting, President Trump once again raised this issue in his talks with Chairman Kim Jong-un.

During Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the U.S. (in April), the two leaders confirmed that they will continue to closely collaborate towards the early resolution of the abduction issue. President Trump said that he will continue to fully cooperate with Japan. We are tremendously encouraged by the heavy importance that President Trump has attached to the abduction issue.

The Government of Japan’s policy on North Korea remains unchanged. We will pursue a comprehensive resolution of outstanding issues of concern including abduction as well as the nuclear and missile programs, settle the unfortunate past and seek normalization of our diplomatic relationship. North Korea is blessed with untapped natural resources and a workforce that could greatly enhance productivity. If North Korea chooses the right path, it can draw a bright future for itself.

Japan is ready to provide all the help available to unleash the potential of North Korea. Japan is prepared to break the shell of mutual distrust with North Korea and get off to a new start. Prime Minister Abe has said on several occasions that he is determined to meet face-to-face with Chairman Kim without preconditions attached. We are at a crucial moment. As family members of the abductees age, we will not miss any opportunity to take decisive action to bring about the earliest possible resolution.

President Trump backs Japan-North Korea talks, meets abductees’ families

U.S. President Donald Trump visited Japan on May 25-28 as the first state guest of the Reiwa era and gave his full support to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s intention to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un without any preconditions. Trump also met the families of Japanese abducted by North Korea several decades ago for the second time and pledged to help solve what Abe said was the most important issue to untangle before Tokyo and Pyongyang normalize ties.

Source: Official Website of the Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet

During his talks with Trump at the State Guest House in Tokyo, Abe said: “I’d like to meet Chairman Kim Jong-un of the Workers’ Party of Korea without setting any conditions and talk to him frankly with an open mind.” In response, Trump said he would fully support the proposed bilateral meeting.

After the meeting, Trump, Abe and their wives met families of Japanese abductees. “We will be working together to bring your relatives — your daughters, your sons, your mothers — home,” Trump said, adding that the issue is “very much on my mind.”

The family members who met Trump included Sakie and Takuya Yokota, mother and brother of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Korea when she was 13; and Shigeo and Koichiro Iizuka, brother and son of Yaeko Taguchi, who was abducted in 1978 when Koichiro was 1 year old.

“The fact that you are spending time, for the second time, with family members of the abductees shows how serious you are about resolving the abductions issue,” Sakie Yokota was quoted as saying to Trump through an interpreter. “Mr. President, you did raise the abductions issue when you met Chairman Kim Jong-un. And since then, we started to see some tangible or concrete progress toward the resolution of this issue for the first time.”

At a press conference after the meeting, Shigeo Iizuka, Chairman of the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, said, “The President was interested in our common experience of having lost loved ones.” But he added, “The issue must not remain unsolved forever.”

The family members first met Trump when he visited Japan in November 2017.

In a related move, Trump sent a letter to Akihiro Arimoto, the 90-year-old father of Keiko Arimoto, who was abducted to North Korea from Europe in 1983, in response to a letter Arimoto sent just before Trump’s visit. “Akihiro – I am working hard for you. So is P.M. Abe,” Trump’s handwritten letter said. “You will win. Great to see you!”

Chronology of developments related to abductions

  • 1977
    Sept. 19
    Yutaka Kume abducted
    Oct. 21
    Kyoko Matsumoto abducted
    Nov. 15
    Megumi Yokota abducted
  • 1978
    Around June
    Yaeko Taguchi and Minoru Tanaka abducted
    July 7
    Yasushi and Fukie Chimura abducted
    July 31
    Kaoru and Yukiko Hasuike abducted
    Aug. 12
    Shuichi Ichikawa, Rumiko Masumoto, Hitomi and Miyoshi Soga abducted
  • 1980
    Around May
    Toru Ishioka and Kaoru Matsuki abducted
    Around mid-June
    Tadaaki Hara abducted
  • 1983
    Around July
    Keiko Arimoto abducted
  • 1985
    South Korean authorities arrest North Korean agent Sin Gwang-su
  • 1987
    Nov. 29
    Bombing of Korean Air Flight 858. Bomber and former North Korean agent Kim Hyon-hui says she was taught by a Japanese woman named “Lee Un-hae”
  • 1988
    National Public Security Commission Chairman tells the Diet that the missing couples were highly likely abducted
  • 1991
    National Police Agency announces Lee Un-hae is Yaeko Taguchi
  • 1994
    July 8
    North Korean President Kim Il-sung dies
  • 1997
    Testimony of former North Korean agent reveals Megumi Yokota was abducted
    Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea is established
    Government acknowledges 10 people in seven cases are suspected to have been abducted
    North Korea announces it will investigate the whereabouts of “Japanese missing persons”
  • 1998
    North Korea announces it has no information about the missing persons Japan is looking for
  • 1999
    North Korea announces it will again investigate the “missing persons”
  • 2001
    North Korea suspends investigations into the missing persons
  • 2002
    Former wife of Kimihiro Uomoto, a member of the Yodo-go hijacking group, says Keiko Arimoto was abducted
    Sept. 17
    At a Japan-North Korea summit meeting, General Secretary Kim Jong-il admits North Korea abducted 13 Japanese, five of whom are still alive
    Sept. 25
    Arrest warrant issued for Kimihiro Uomoto
    Government investigation team dispatched to North Korea and returns with “Matsuki’s ashes”
    Oct. 15
    The Hasuikes, Chimuras and Hitomi Soga return to Japan
    Tests prove ashes that North Korea claimed were Matsuki’s are not his
  • 2003
    Jan. 8
    Arrest warrant issued for Kim Se-ho in connection with Kume’s abduction
    Government officially recognizes 15 Japanese as abduction victims
  • 2004
    May 22
    Japan and North Korea hold a second summit meeting. Five children of the Hasuikes and Chimuras come to Japan
    Soga’s husband, Charles Jenkins, and their two daughters come to Japan
    Nov. 9-14
    Japan and North Korea hold working-level talks. North Korea submits ashes it claims to be Megumi Yokota’s
    Dec. 8
    DNA tests prove the ashes are not Megumi Yokota’s
  • 2005
    Minoru Tanaka added to government’s official list of abduction victims
  • 2006
    Feb. 23
    Arrest warrant issued for Choe Sung-chol in connection with the abduction of the Hasuikes and Chimuras
    Nov. 2
    Arrest warrant issued for Kim Myeong-suk in connection with the abduction of Hitomi Soga and her mother, Miyoshi
    Kyoko Matsumoto added to government’s official list of abduction victims
  • 2007
    At a Japan-North Korea working-level session on normalizing diplomatic ties, North Korea claims the abductions issue is closed
    June 13
    Arrest warrants issued for Junko Mori and Sakiko Wakabayashi (formerly Kuroda), wives of Yodo-go hijackers, in connection with the abduction of Ishioka and Matsuki
  • 2008
    June 11-12
    At a Japan-North Korea working-level session, North Korea announces another investigation into the abductions issue
    Sept. 4
    North Korea tells Japan it is postponing the investigation
  • 2011
    Dec. 17
    North Korean General Secretary Kim Jong-il dies
  • 2012
    April 11
    Kim Jong-un assumes position of first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea
  • 2014
    March 10-14
    Parents of Megumi Yokota meet her daughter, Kim Eun-gyong, in Mongolia
    May 26-28
    Japan and North Korea hold talks in Stockholm. North Korea pledges again to conduct investigations into the abductions
  • 2016
    Feb. 12
    North Korea announces suspension of abduction investigations
  • 2017
    May 12
    Families of missing Japanese whose abduction by North Korea cannot be ruled out form a group
    Sept. 19
    U.S. President Donald Trump mentions the abductions issue in his address to the UN General Assembly
  • 2018
    April 17-18
    At Japan-U.S. summit meeting, President Trump promises to raise the abductions issue when he meets Kim Jong-un
    June 2
    U.S.-North Korea summit held in Singapore
  • 2019
    Feb. 27-28
    U.S.-North Korea summit held in Hanoi



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