Relatives of suspected abduction victims will urge the International Criminal Court next week to prosecute North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying his refusal to provide information on their whereabouts constitutes human rights abuses against them.
The families and their supporters will travel to The Hague to directly submit a petition requesting investigations into the suspected abductions of at least 100 Japanese as a case of crimes against humanity.
While the abductions themselves were carried out on the orders of deceased leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the current leader is aware that a significant number of them “are still alive and that their freedom is severely restricted,” says a draft petition obtained by Kyodo News on Thursday.
Representing the petitioners, 81-year-old Shoichi Osawa, whose brother, Takashi, disappeared in February 1974 from Sado Island off Niigata Prefecture, said, “We want to show Kim Jong Un how determined we are through the act of filing the petition.”
It will be the ICC’s first investigation request over the abductions, many of which took place in the 1970s, according to the families.
“We will strive to gain support from the international community so we can get all victims back alive one day,” Osawa said.
The ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor will determine whether to open a case after receiving the request.
While a 2014 U.N. report on North Korea says “it is probable that at least 100 Japanese nationals have been abducted” by Pyongyang, the Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea, a private organization set up in 2003, believes the disappearance of about 470 Japanese may be related to the country.
The National Police Agency lists over 850 people as involved in probable abductions by the North, with many of them overlapping the 470.
The government officially recognizes 17 as abduction victims beyond doubt. Of those, five returned to Japan in 2002 after unprecedented negotiations under then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
“Right now, with the Olympics, South Korea is really making a connection with the North, which we did not expect,” Kazuhiro Araki, who heads a support group for families of the missing, said in reference to cross-Korea talks on participation in the Winter Olympics.
“So we believe this will bring a lot of attention to Japan’s different situation,” he said.
Araki acknowledged that the move might be mostly symbolic.
“Arresting Kim Jong Un and bringing him in would be rather difficult, but it’s extremely important to show that there are human rights abuses taking place,” he said.
During the landmark summit between Koizumi and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in September 2002 in Pyongyang, the late Kim admitted North Korea had abducted 13 Japanese and claimed eight of them had died.
Last March, the U.N. Human Rights Council approved a resolution recommending the use of the ICC, which holds the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, in resolving the cases.
The ICC has opened inquiries and issued arrest warrants for national leaders including former Cote d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo, who was arrested in 2011, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is still at large, for alleged crimes against humanity.