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PRESS STATEMENT
Visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, to Japan
10-14 December 2006

Press Release 06-088-E 2006.12.13

The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, paid an official visit to Japan from 10 till 14 December 2006.  This was his second visit to the country in his capacity as Special Rapporteur and was part of information-gathering to prepare his next report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in early 2007.

The UN Special Rapporteur conveys his warmest thanks to the Government of Japan and the United Nations University for facilitating his visit.  He had full access to all individuals and agencies which he sought to meet.  He carried out discussions with government officials, parliamentarians, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and other members of civil society, on the issue of human rights in the DPRK and its impact on Japan.  A key part of his visit was to meet members of the families of those abducted by the DPRK.  He felt it a great honour to meet the families and to reflect their concerns in his work for the UN.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was established in 2004 by the UN Human Rights Commission, Geneva.  It was extended under the newly formed UN Human Rights Council in 2006 for one year, and the Special Rapporteur is tasked with preparing and submitting reports to both the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council.  The mandate of his work encompasses a variety of questions relating to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, ranging from humanitarian aid (especially food aid to the DPRK) to asylum, abductions of foreigners and related transgressions on the part of the DPRK.  Regrettably the DPRK has refused to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and has declined to invite him into the country.

The abductions of Japanese nationals by the DPRK is a major concern to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.  A number of Japanese nationals were abducted by agents of the DPRK in past decades, particularly in the 1970s. In 2002 at a Summit – the first Summit – between the leaders of Japan and the DPRK in Pyongyang, the latter admitted that the DPRK had been involved in a number of abductions and apologized accordingly.  The two sides then adopted the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration 2002, premised upon peaceful dialogue and resolution of outstanding disputes on the basis of international law, particularly to help settle the abductions issue.

A number of other meetings have followed, but various uncertainties remain.  Currently Japan claims that seventeen individuals were abducted by the DPRK.  Five of these individuals have now returned to Japan, but the other cases have not yet been solved, mainly because of intransigence on the part of the DPRK.  Many sources in Japan, particularly the families of the abductees, believe that a number of Japanese nationals abducted by the DPRK are still alive in the DPRK.  The sentiment is that they should be returned to Japan expeditiously.  During the past year, other cases have come to light in regard to the nationals of several other countries abducted by DPRK agents.  The Japanese authorities and civil society have strengthened their cooperation with other countries to share information, raise awareness of  the issue, and strategize to exert greater influence on those who should be responsible for the abductions.  They have also had more access to the UN to advocate their claims.

The issue of abductions committed by the DPRK has had enormous impact both nationally and internationally and is interrelated with the call for clarification and responsibility on the part of the DPRK.  In addition to the work of the Special Rapporteur on the cases, a number of the cases mentioned are being addressed by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.  There have been significant  UN resolutions on the issue, most recently from the Third Committee of  the UN General Assembly, which in 2006 expressed its concern at the continuing reports in regard to grave violations on:  (per article 1(b)(v))

“Unresolved questions of international concern relating to the abduction of foreigners in the form of an enforced disappearance, which violates the human rights of the nationals of other sovereign countries.”

In 2006 matters were made more complicated by the various missile and nuclear tests carried out by the DPRK which led to global condemnation, especially through unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolutions imposing sanctions on the DPRK.  Interestingly, in the Preamble of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 imposing such sanctions, the issue of human rights and abductions is referred to impliedly by the emphasis on “other security and humanitarian concerns of the international community”.  There is a related need to enable the negotiations known as the six-party talks (involving six countries including Japan and the DPRK) to resume  to solve key issues, including the nuclear problem facing the Korean peninsula, which also have impact on the human rights situation; a positive development on that front will contribute to the space for humanitarian action.

It can be recalled that at the end of UN Special Rapporteur’s visit to Japan for the first time in regard to his mandate in 2005, he issued a Humanitarian Call based on five key principles.  They deserve re-emphasis today, during the second visit of the Special Rapporteur in 2006, as follows:

1.Responsibility:
  • call upon the DPRK to respond effectively and expeditiously to Japan’s claim that there are a number of Japanese nationals abducted by the DPRK who are still alive in the DPRK and that they should be returned to Japan immediately and in safety;
2.Transparency:
  • call upon the DPRK to ensure reliable and objective verification of the DPRK’s claim concerning the alleged deaths of various Japanese nationals abducted by the DPRK, clarify related ambiguities and discrepancies, and ascertain whether other Japanese nationals have been abducted by the DPRK.
3.Family unity:
  • Call upon the DPRK to respect and guarantee family unity/reunification, particularly for those who have suffered from the abductions.
4.Accountability:
  • Call upon the DPRK to rectify the discrepancies and enable the victims of the abductions and their families to access justice and seek redress effectively and expeditiously from those responsible for the abductions, including bringing to justice those responsible for the acts.
5.Sustainability:
  • Call upon the DPRK to rectify the discrepancies and enable the victims of the abductions and their families to access justice and seek redress effectively and expeditiously from those responsible for the abductions, including bringing to justice those responsible for the acts.
This Humanitarian Call should be reinforced by the following preferred orientations:
  • Pro-active Dialogue: to take steps more expeditiously for satisfactory settlement of the outstanding issue of abductions;
  • Substantive Progress: to show tangible results based on the universal responsibility to protect human rights in compliance with international law;
  • International Solidarity: to support the two countries in their bilateral and multilateral relations to solve the problem peacefully, with the backing of the totality of the UN system.
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