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Abducted: The Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea

North Korean Abductions: Victims' Families Urgent Appeal in Meeting with UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield

In the meeting, family members explained the urgency of international support for ending North Korea's abductions by returning all victims to their homes.



US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a meeting with the abductions victims' family liaison committee on April 18 at the Prime Minister's Office. (© Sankei by Ataru Haruna)

While she was in Tokyo on April 18, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield met with families of victims abducted by North Korea. Takuya Yokota represented the families of North Korean abductions and sought the Ambassador's understanding of their stance. Yokota is the brother of Megumi, who was 13 when she was abducted near her home by North Korean agents. Now 59, she is still in North Korea.

With the families facing the reality of aging, the Kishida administration perceives the abduction issue as a "time-constrained human rights issue." It is determined to expedite the resolution of the abductions.

On their part, the families want to see the immediate repatriation of all abductees while their parents are still alive. If the abductees are returned within that time limit, the families have said they would not oppose lifting Japan's unilateral sanctions against North Korea. However, Yokota reiterated, "With both the abductees and their families aging, there's no time to waste."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi oversees the abduction issue for the Kishida administration. In the meeting, he joined in calling for continued American cooperation on the abductions.

Families of abduction victims met with the US Ambassador to the UN on April 18 at the Prime Minister's Office. Yoshimasa Hayashi, Minister in charge of the Abduction Issue is pictured at the center. (© Sankei by Ataru Haruna)

A 'Human Rights Case with Time Restrictions'

Yokota introduced other family members as he pleaded, "The remaining parents are facing the challenges of old age, and time is of the essence."

Exacerbated by the aging of the families, the situation has grown more urgent. As a consequence, the families' action plan for 2024, joined by support groups, is more detailed compared to their 2023 approach. Their 2023 position was to "not oppose humanitarian assistance" if all abductees were repatriated while their parents were still alive.

During the national rally in 2022, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida first referred to the abductions as "a human rights issue with time restrictions." He demonstrated a willingness to resolutely address the abduction issue. 

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfuield meets with Minister in charge of the Abduction Issue Yoshimasa Hayashi and representatives of the victims' families, including Sakie Yokota (3rd right) and Takuya Yokota (5th right), at the Prime Minister's office on April 18. (© Sankei by Ataru Haruna)

Explaining Their Cases

Taking cues from Kishida's remarks, the Families' Association and others analyzed this approach. They interpreted it as effectively separating the abductions from the more challenging nuclear and missile issues. Thus their position since 2024 has added the feature to not oppose the lifting of Japanese sanctions if all the victims come home.

Despite Japan's independent position, securing understanding from the United States and South Korea remains crucial. With North Korea persisting in its ballistic missile launches, any potential improvement in relations between Japan and North Korea could disrupt coordination among Japan, the United States, and South Korea. Therefore, the direct appeal from the families of abduction victims to the US Ambassador holds significant importance.

Furthermore, as Yokota emphasized to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, "Strong pressure is necessary for North Korea to engage in dialogue." In other words, the importance of sustained international pressure remains unchanged. 

Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi is one of North Korea's abductions victims, speaks to reporters after meeting with US Ambassador Thomas Greenfield outside the Prime Minister's office on April 18. (©Kyodo)

North Korea's Strained Positions

North Korea has long asserted that the abductions issue is "already resolved." However, it wants aid from the outside world. In any event, it has firmly refused contact with Japan in the last two months. There is no indication of when it might change its mind. 

The country also has a history of employing deceitful and coercive tactics. In 2014, under the Stockholm Agreement, North Korea pledged to conduct a new investigation into abductions cases in exchange for Japan partially lifting sanctions. There is no evidence that an investigation occurred. However, the agreement also depended on the status quo regarding military developments. 

Then in 2016, North Korea initiated nuclear weapons tests along with ballistic missile launches. In response, Japan announced new unilateral sanctions. Using that as an excuse, North Korea unilaterally suspended the promised investigation.

Reflecting on North Korea's past tactics, it's difficult to ensure that lifting Japan's unilateral sanctions will result in a breakthrough. Hence, it's crucial for the government to collaborate with the US and South Korea. 

Together they must firmly communicate to North Korean leadership. The message is that unless North Korea agrees to the immediate repatriation of all abductees, pressure on North Korea will escalate. In that situation, moreover, Japan will refrain from providing any humanitarian assistance.


Author: Mizuki Okada