As the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I was on my first official visit to Japan from 25 to 28 January 2011. The main objective of my visit is to assess the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and its impacts on the countries in the region, such as Japan.
Here in Japan, I held several meetings with the Government Officials, such as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, the Minister in-charge of abduction issues, the Senior Vice-Minister of Cabinet Office in-charge of abduction issue, Ambassador in charge of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, the Deputy Vice-Minister for Foreign Policy, the Director General of Asian and Oceanian affairs of MoFA.
I also interacted with national and international non-governmental organizations, diplomats, some of the United Nations agencies, and other relevant individuals working on the human rights and the humanitarian situation in the DPRK.
A number of issues that came up during my visit to the Republic of Korea in November 2010 were brought to my attention during my current mission as well. The information gathered during the meeting with the defectors from the DPRK, who are currently living in Japan reinforces number of reports that emphasizes dire humanitarian situation and absence of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights for the people of the DPRK, underscoring the importance of providing humanitarian aid to the DPRK, subject of course to proper monitoring of distribution of aid, and measures to be taken by the DPRK to ensure respecting a wide range of human rights.
Among others, the question of 17 identified cases of abduction of Japanese nationals by the agents of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea stood out strongly in several discussions with the civil society and the Government Officials here in Japan. As of today, the subject remains unresolved notwithstanding several meetings between Japan and the DPRK.
As of today, only 5 of 17 abductees have returned to Japan, with another 12 identified Japanese cases still pending. In this regard, the world community saw a glimmer of hope between year 2002, when the Japan-DPRK summit showed traces of the DRPK forthcoming to admit the abductions it carried out, and 2008 when the DPRK agreed to establish an investigation committee with adequate authority to look into the matter. Since then however, to much regret of the international community, there has not been any real positive outcome and the agreement stands unimplemented.
The urgency of the matter is clear, the abductees are getting old, and so are their family members, here in Japan. During the current mission, I had the opportunity to meet with families of a few abductees and hear their grievances. They had painful stories to share, which has clearly moved me. While sharing my sympathies for the abductees and their families, I wish to pledge that I would follow this matter closely and do everything possible to highlight their case, along with the wider human rights situation in the DPRK, at various international fora.
It is pertinent to note that a number of other countries, such as the RoK, Lebanon, and Thailand have also been victims of such abductions by the DPRK authorities. I stress that the question of abductions is not only a bi-lateral issue between Japan and the DPRK, but one that concerns the international community at large and one that has strong links to the human rights situation in the DPRK. It is thus incumbent upon the authorities to come out clean and settle this long standing question of abduction and engage on wider issues of the human rights and humanitarian situation of the people in the DPRK. Additionally, for an effective resolution of the abduction issue, international criminal liability of those responsible for abduction cannot be ruled out. As a start, I urge the DPRK to return to the promises made during August 2008 to reinvestigate the pending cases.
The DPRK, like I have mentioned earlier, cannot afford to find itself in isolation and needs to seize every opportunity to establish dialogue with the international community. I am confident that such a response by the DPRK will be reciprocated by the international community in goodwill. I will continue to engage with the DPRK authorities with the hope that the authorities would change their course and interact with me, as the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the DPRK.
On a final note, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the Government of Japan for their warm reception. During this mission, I not only held discussions, but also established contacts and identified individuals and groups, who I wish to meet during my future mission to the country. I am encouraged by the privileging interest in the human rights situation in the DPRK, among various actors here in Japan.