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EDITORIAL | Work With 1st Japanese ICC President to Pursue Abduction Cases

The ICC previously evaded the issue of North Korean abductions, saying these happened before Japan's membership. These abductions, however, are ongoing crimes.



The International Criminal Court, The Hague, Netherlands (© Kyodo)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) conducts trials involving accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Now it has selected Judge Tomoko Akane as its new president.

She will be the first ICC president from Japan, the largest financial supporter of the ICC. Naming her to the post is evidence of the high evaluation of Japan's efforts in advocating an "international order based on the rule of law." We welcome Judge Akane's selection.

The ICC and Russia's Invasion

Two years have passed since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. The ICC is attracting considerable attention as it investigates the barbaric war crimes being perpetrated by Russia. We hope Judge Akane will take the lead in achieving justice based on the "rule of law." 

In March of 2023, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and other individuals. They were charged with war crimes for their alleged involvement in the abduction of Ukrainian children to Russia. Akane was one of the three judges who made the decision. 

Russia has not joined the ICC and the chances of Putin himself being taken into custody are small. Nonetheless, the prestige of Russia as a nation and Putin himself have suffered. Travel abroad for Putin and the other suspects will be restricted by the fact that they may be arrested if they visit an ICC member country. 

Tomoko Akane Assumes Presidency of the International Criminal Court - United Nations Headquarters in New York. (© Sankei by Yusuke Hirata)

More Countries Need to Join

Although 124 nations and territories have joined the ICC, several major countries have not. They include the United States, China, and India, out of fear that their own soldiers may be subjected to prosecution. In fact, only 19 countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific have joined.

Akane says, "I would like to see Asian countries learn more about the ICC's significance and mission and encourage their cooperation with us." 

She has proposed the establishment of an ICC regional office in Tokyo. Her hope is that the number of ICC members in Asia will increase. 

Sakie Yokota, mother of abductee Megumi, and Akihiro Arimoto, father of abductee Keiko, discuss their hopes for bringing their abducted children home from North Korea. August 2, 2023 at the Nihombashi Takashimaya Department Store in Tokyo. (Pool photo)

Abductions are Among the 'Gravest Crimes'

The mission of the ICC is to prosecute and punish individuals who have committed the "gravest crimes" of concern to the entire international community. Each case should be prosecuted according to international law. The crimes at issue include "genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, as well as the crime of aggression."

North Korea's abductions of Japanese citizens would certainly seem to qualify as one of these "gravest crimes."  In 2018, families of abduction victims and designated missing persons, whose abduction by North Korea cannot be ruled out, filed a complaint with the ICC demanding that North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un be held accountable.

However, the Court evaded involvement by stating, "The ICC does not have jurisdiction in the investigation or other aspects of cases that occurred prior to Japan's becoming an official member." 

The fact, however, is that the abductions are not past incidents. They are ongoing crimes that continue to be committed at present. The Japanese government should work with Judge Akane and find a way to have the ICC pursue the matter of the abductions. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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