U.N. special rapporteur on North Korea Marzuki Darusman on Monday discussed Pyongyang’s past abductions of Japanese nationals with Japanese ministers and relatives of abductees during his visit to Tokyo.
“Japan does not intend to close the window for dialogue with North Korea,” Katsunobu Kato, state minister in charge of the abduction issue, said in his meeting with Darusman, which was open to media. “Japan will tackle the (issue) with ultimate efforts to bring back the abductees to Japan as soon as possible.”
Darusman, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights issues in North Korea, responded that “it would be of immense interest to expect dialogue between Japan and North Korea continues to take place.”
Kato’s remarks come as concerns are mounting among relatives of the abductees that the possible imposition of tougher sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its fourth nuclear test earlier this month would stall progress in bilateral negotiations to resolve the abduction issue.
Ahead of the talks with Kato, Darusman met with relatives of the abductees, including Shigeo Iizuka, head of the abductees’ family group whose sister, Yaeko Taguchi, was abducted in 1978.
The abductions by North Korea are “a crime against humanity” and the country must be held accountable, Darusman said in the meeting, which was also open to the media. Iizuka requested Darusman’s support in resolving the long-standing issue, saying, “The backing of the international community (on the abduction issue) will be a strong message to North Korea.”
The U.N. expert is on a five-day visit to Japan from Monday to gather information on human rights abuses by Pyongyang and include it in a report to be presented to the Human Rights Council in March.
It will likely be Darusman’s last visit to Japan in his current capacity as his mandate expires in July. He was appointed special rapporteur in 2010 by the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Darusman is a member of the U.N. commission investigating human rights violations in North Korea that released a report in February 2014 strongly condemning the human rights situation in North Korea.
Also Monday, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met with Darusman and expressed hope that the U.N. expert’s proposals will facilitate North Korean action to resolve the abduction issue, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Darusman said pressure must be exerted on North Korea to improve the human rights situation in the country, the ministry said.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, but suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances. Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, while Pyongyang claims eight have died and four others never entered the country.
Tokyo has been urging Pyongyang to report on the outcome of a fresh probe into the whereabouts of all Japanese residing in North Korea as stipulated under a bilateral agreement. But no tangible progress has been made.
The abduction issue has prevented the two countries from normalizing diplomatic relations.