• Kyodo

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The U.N. Security Council on Monday took up the issue of human rights in North Korea, with the body’s human rights chief saying the worsening security situation in the region is hurting efforts to bring home Japanese nationals abducted by the reclusive state.

“No progress has been made regarding cases of international abductions and enforced disappearances,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told the 15 members at the formal discussion.

“Efforts to locate 12 Japanese nationals and 516 nationals of the Republic of Korea have been hampered by the deteriorating security situation,” he said.

The Japanese government has officially recognized 17 people as victims of abduction by the North. They were mainly taken in the 1970s and 1980s and five of them have since been returned.

Al-Hussein was referring to the tense circumstances on the Korean Peninsula, which have been exacerbated by Pyongyang’s continued pursuit of its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

“Many of their family members still don’t know what’s become of their loved ones,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said of the Japanese families, whose relatives were allegedly abducted by North Korea to help train agents from the isolated state in Japanese language and culture. The American envoy also noted Pyongyang’s “menacing march towards nuclear weapons,” while its people are suffering.

The discussion, which took place for the fourth year in a row, was presided over by Japanese Ambassador Koro Bessho. It occurred only after a procedural vote was taken as China insisted that the rights abuses are not a matter of international peace and security and should be handled elsewhere.

Ten countries backed the discussion, with three — China, Russia and Bolivia — voting against it. Ethiopia and Egypt abstained but the minimum threshold of nine votes was passed. No veto can be exercised on such votes.

Bessho is among the diplomats who believe the powerful council is the appropriate place to address the issue.

“Abduction is a grave issue concerning the sovereignty of countries concerned and the lives and safety of their citizens, and it is undoubtedly a threat to international peace and security.”

He pointed to the fate of Megumi Yokota, who was taken from the streets of her hometown in Niigata Prefecture in 1977 at the age of 13.

With her parents and others like them getting older, Bessho said “there is no time to waste in resolving the issue.”

Beyond the plight of the abductees, al-Hussein and other diplomats addressed a range of pressing issues, including concerns over those detained in prisons and labor camps. There are also more than 70 reports of men, women and children who have been sent back to North Korea over the past year, with their fates uncertain.

Al-Hussein voiced concerns over the fact that sanctions “may be adversely affecting” the people on the ground who are in need of humanitarian aid. U.N. agencies, he said, are providing assistance to some 13 million vulnerable people.

Following the council meeting, a side event was held featuring guest speaker Ji Hyeon A, a North Korean defector who escaped her country four times. She is now living in South Korea.

North Korea’s U.N. Mission released a statement taking aim at the “non-existent human rights issues” and claimed that the council was controlled by the United States.

“If the U.S. and other hostile forces think of browbeating (North Korea) by the discussion of ‘human rights issues’ in the Security Council, it is nothing else than a daydream that will not be realized ever.”

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