U.N. rights mission hears Japan's concerns about N. Korea's abduction

Visiting members of a U.N. commission investigating human rights violations in North Korea on Wednesday began hearing from Japanese officials about Tokyo's concerns over the unresolved cases of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang.

Three members of the Commission of Inquiry, which was established by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March, were briefed by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida 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.

Kishida said he hopes the commission members understand Japan's position on the matter and pledged Tokyo's "maximum support" for their work in Japan, adding that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is committed to resolving the cases during his current tenure.

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."

Noting that the abductions of foreigners are grave violations of human rights, Kirby added that he and the other commission members intend to play the role of communicators for the international community to highlight the issue, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The panel members then attended a briefing with Japanese officials, including Keiji Furuya, the Cabinet minister in charge of the issue.

"I hope that through this visit, you will see that our government is working as one in tackling the abduction issue, and that you will raise this issue at the United Nations," Furuya told the U.N. commission members.

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.

Before meeting separately with a cross-party group of parliamentarians seeking to secure the return of Japanese abductees, Kirby said that the "challenge" is "to think of new ways that we can secure actual results and not just another beautiful United Nations report."

The commission is scheduled to submit its report to the U.N. Human Rights Council next March.

Eriko Yamatani, secretary general of the group, in a briefing to reporters afterward, said, "We told the commission that we hope North Korea would understand through this report that if it does not settle the (abduction) issue, it cannot be part of the international community and cannot ensure the happiness of its people."

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

The commission 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.