JAPAN Forward is pleased to feature four student essays written in English that have been recognized by awards in the 2020 and 2021 essay competitions for North Korean Human Rights Awareness Week.
English Essay Category 1st Prize (2020)
By: HIRANO Eri
11th Grade, Tokyo Metropolitan Kokusai High School
North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals have long been an outstanding issue between the two countries. According to the Japanese government, 17 Japanese citizens are identified as abduction victims. Five of them were repatriated in 2002 after then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted to the abductions. The abductees are allegedly compelled to train North Korean spies with the Japanese language, customs, and culture. Abduction is a deprivation of human rights and freedom, and it reflects Pyongyang’s contempt toward humanity and the international community.
Amid a lack of tangible progress on the issue, Japan lost one of the strongest advocates this year. Shigeru Yokota, the father of Megumi Yokota who was kidnapped by North Korean agents at age 13 in 1977, passed away. He and his wife, Sakie Yokota, called for the return of their loving daughter and other abductees for more than 40 years which left a significant impact in Japan and the world in terms of disseminating information about the North Korean abduction. I could never imagine the pain Mr. and Mrs. Yokota suffered for not being able to see Megumi for so long.
In the absence of diplomatic ties between Japan and North Korea, I think that reinforcing coordination with the United States, China, and South Korea, countries that can influence North Korea, is vital for pushing forward the issue. Recognizing the North Korean abduction as a “global issue” and putting stronger international pressure on the country could force North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to resolve this human rights violation. As Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in his video address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, we have no time to lose as the families of the victims continue to age. Prime Minister Suga also said he is ready to meet with Mr. Kim “without any conditions.”
As a minor, what I can do for the abduction issue may be limited. However, I believe that delivering messages of the tragedy through this essay and discussing with my friends and other youths abroad could enhance awareness of the issue. Encouraging people to closely watch Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles, which pose a threat to the international community, is also important to promote understanding on what kind of a country North Korea is.
Since I spent a part of my childhood in Beijing, I have a great interest in Japan’s relations with China and diplomatic issues in broader Asia. I also like South Korean entertainment culture, so I have been studying the Korean and Chinese languages in addition to English. I believe learning the Korean language is a good way to know North Korea’s perspectives on the abductions of Japanese nationals, regional security, and other issues. I would like to continue such studies so I can hopefully contribute to a resolution of the abduction issue.
Author: HIRANO Eri
Hosted by the Headquarters for the Abduction Issue, the Government of Japan, supported by the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, has sponsored an essay contest for junior high and high school students since 2017 on the topic of awareness of North Korean human rights abuses. Among the issues of concern has been the Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean government agents from at least the 1970s, including then-13-year-old Megumi Yokota.
Published as a linked set, the four awarded essays showcase the serious thought these junior high and high school students have given to human rights, as well as the hope of this generation and ideas for all of us to ponder for moving the abductions and other North Korean human rights issues toward resolution.
Read the essays:
(More reports on the abduction of Japanese by North Korea can be found at this link.)