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Abducted: The Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea

Full Support to Bring Japanese Abduction Victims Home, Says US Envoy

Julie Turner, United States Special Envoy on North Korean Rights Issues spoke on the "importance of bringing actors back to the table" on the abduction issue. 



Julie Turner, US Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights, talks to the media on February 14. (© JAPAN Forward)

The United States fully supports Japan's efforts to bring abduction victims home, says the US Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights issues on February 14. 

Speaking to the media, Julie Turner recounted her time in Japan, including a visit to Niigata on February 13. She was shown where 13-year-old Megumi Yokota was believed to have been abducted by North Korean operatives in 1977. Turner was the first US official to visit such a scene of the crime associated with the abduction issue. The same day, Turner met with Yoshifumi Tsuge, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan. 

As victims like Megumi still haven't been returned to Japan, Turner said that the United States shows "full support to the Japanese government to bring the abductees home." 

Excerpts follow, including Ambassador Turner's perspective on North Korea and the potential for future dialogue. 

Julie Turner visits Niigata on February 13  (© Kyodo).

Interview with US Special Envoy Julie Turner

Could you tell us your reaction to visiting Niigata and retracing the last moments when Megumi Yokota was seen in Japan?

I've been working on North Korean human rights issues for 20-odd years and have touched on the abduction issue in prior roles in the US government. My visit to Niigata was really important in driving home and personalizing what had happened. It's hard to walk that path [that Megumi walked] without feeling the impact. 

I have three young daughters. And [I've been] thinking about the range of emotions that Megumi's mother must have felt and still feels today in wanting to be reunited with her loved one. [The trip] has given me a new perspective and the ability to speak after having felt that full range of emotions. 

[I can speak] more meaningfully and powerfully about the issue when I am speaking on abductions or divided families. Or about how the North Korean government's repressive policies have kept families divided for so long. 

How is the human rights situation in North Korea after COVID-19? 

Unfortunately, we've seen that the human rights situation in North Korea has worsened. COVID-19 and closed borders allowed the North Korean government to tighten many controls inside the country. 


They put into place three laws that some in the international community have referred to as the three evil laws. The Pyongyang dialect law, the anti-reactionary thought law, and the law on youth education. These laws increase punishments for individuals caught consuming foreign media. 

The effort in applying these laws is consistent with a broader movement to tighten those domestic controls. This includes the decentralization of the food distribution system and the closure of many underground black markets. Before COVID, [the markets] had been thriving places for the exchange of information. 

Has COVID-19 affected international negotiations on the abduction issue? 

We have seen [North Korea's] continued withdrawal from international space. This is both in terms of engagement with other governments, but also pulling workers back. [They are] downsizing their diplomatic presence overseas in different places. 

Does this mean there are fewer opportunities for dialogue?

I don't want to give up hope on the potential for future dialogue. We [the United States] have made clear that we're ready for dialogue without any preconditions. That includes that full range of subjects.

I've personally spoken about our desire to see the North Koreans come to the table to talk about human rights. On the US side, we are open to a frank exchange where we would also be willing to talk about our own human rights record.

Julie Turner meets with Koichi Kasatori, vice governor of Niigata Prefecture, on February 13. (© Kyodo).

Media reports have said that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is seeking a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Can you comment on the news?

I can't speak on behalf of the Japanese government on how those conversations are going. On the US side, we've made clear that we are open to dialogue with the North Koreans without preconditions. I think that would also apply to our like-minded partners and our close allies.

What would dialogue with North Korea achieve? 

Getting back to the table is the priority right now so that we can start working through those issues. 

These include regional security. [There are also] long-standing concerns that the international community has expressed over the human rights situation in North Korea, including the abductions issue. 

On the US side, we have many divided families from the Korean War. They also want to be reunited with their loved ones. 


Following discussions with members of the Japanese government, what are your hopes for the development of relations with North Korea going forward? 

The US-Japan relationship has never been stronger, or more ironclad. 

We're also at another historic point with the great trilateral cooperation that we have between the US, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. [That is exemplified] through the [August 2023] Camp David summit. 

With the Camp David summit joint statement, we highlighted the human rights situation in North Korea and the abduction issue. We are well coordinated across our three governments in our desire to see progress on North Korean human rights.


Author: Arielle Busetto

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