U.N. rights mission meets with Japanese officials on N. Korea

Members of a U.N. commission investigating human rights violations in North Korea met with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday in the first of a series of meetings that Tokyo hopes will highlight the unresolved cases of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang.

During the meeting at the Foreign Ministry, Kishida briefed three members of the Commission of Inquiry, which was established by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March, about Japan's efforts to resolve the cases that date back to the 1970s and 1980s.

"The abduction victims include not just Japanese but also South Koreans and those from numerous other countries. We therefore think it is a matter of grave concern for the international community," Kishida said at the start of the meeting.

He said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shown his commitment to resolving the cases during his current tenure as prime minister, and hoped the commission members understand Japan's position on the matter.

In response, Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge who heads the commission, said, "All abuses of human rights are shocking and disturbing, but there is something peculiar and special about the affront to human rights of the abduction of another human being."

Following the meeting with the foreign minister, the panel members attended a briefing with Japanese officials, including Kishida and Keiji Furuya, a Cabinet minister in charge of the issue.

The other two panel members are Marzuki Darusman, a senior Indonesian jurist who also serves as the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in North Korea, and Sonja Biserko, a Serbian human rights activist.

Later on Wednesday, the commission members are scheduled to exchange views with members of a cross-party group of parliamentarians concerned about Japanese abduction victims who remain unaccounted for.

The commission members are also expected to interview relatives of Japanese abductees at "public hearing" sessions on Thursday and Friday before meeting with Abe on Friday afternoon.

The members are set to leave Japan on Sunday, with the commission scheduled to submit its report to the U.N. Human Rights Council next March. The commission members interviewed dozens of North Korean defectors in South Korea over the past week before coming to Japan on Tuesday.

The Commission of Inquiry was established with a one-year mandate to look into "systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights" in North Korea, according to a statement posted on the website of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The abduction issue remains a key stumbling block in the normalization of diplomatic ties between Japan and North Korea, with Pyongyang saying the issue has been resolved and Tokyo calling for a reinvestigation into the whereabouts of the abductees.

Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korea, of whom five were repatriated to Japan in 2002. But North Korea is also suspected in the disappearance of other Japanese nationals.