North Korea: To build trust with the world, release the abductees

North Korea: To build trust with the world, release the abductees
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Leading up to the face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump received Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago on April 17-18. This was their sixth meeting and the two leaders reconfirmed the importance of maintaining close trilateral cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea. They also reconfirmed the importance of early resolution of the issue of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese citizens.

In response to Prime Minister Abe’s request to raise the abduction issue during the upcoming U.S.-North Korean summit, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump warns Iran's Rouhani: Threaten us 'and you will suffer' Pompeo: Iran's leaders resemble the mafia NYT's Haberman: Trump 'often tells the truth' MORE recalled the strong impression he received when he met the families of the abductees during his visit to Japan last November, and affirmed that he will urge Kim to promptly release the Japanese abductees.

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The problem of North Korea — in particular, how to realize dismantlement of nuclear and ballistic missiles in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner — is one of the world’s most serious international security concerns. At the same time, we must not forget that under the cruel dictatorship of the Kim regime, North Korea has been diverting its resources into pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles over the welfare of its people who are forced to lead miserable lives, deprived of basic human rights.

 

Indeed, human rights violations in North Korea are a common concern of the international community as a whole. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said, in its 2014 report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, that “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” The commission urged North Korea to take concrete measures against these violations that may amount to “crimes against humanity,” and called upon the international community to make further efforts to improve the situation.

The report noted that individuals from other countries — including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Romania, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore, France, Italy, the Netherlands and China — may have been abducted by the North Korean regime.

The United States is not an exception. In addition to the tragedy of Otto Warmbier, which President Trump highlighted in his State of the Union address in January, three American nationals remain detained in North Korea.

North Korea abducted 17 Japanese citizens and the 12 remaining there have been awaiting rescue for more than 40 years. Prior to the Trump-Abe meeting at Mar-a-Lago, U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty and his wife met with families of Japanese abductees. Those family members included Shigeo Iizuka, whose 22-year-old sister was abducted, leaving her two young children without a mother.

The world wants to know whether Kim Jong Un’s change in attitude is real. The American, Japanese and South Korean people have seen North Korea make promises before, including to three previous U.S. presidents, only to break those commitments. There is only one way North Korea can demonstrate sincerity in the lead-up to the talks with President Trump: Release the abductees.

Megumi Yokota, for example, 13 years old when she was abducted on her way home from school. In 2002, at the first summit meeting between Japan and North Korea, Kim Jong Il, the current North Korean leader’s father, admitted to the abduction and apologized to Japan. North Korea claimed that Megumi was deceased and provided what they claimed were Megumi’s remains, which eventually proved to be those of someone else.

If the world cannot trust North Korea to live up to international norms when it comes to this basic human rights issue, how can we trust the regime to follow through on commitments to denuclearize the Korean peninsula?

President Trump understands the connection. In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last September, he told the story of Megumi Yokota.

Japan stands in lockstep with President Trump and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea in support of talks between the U.S. president and the North Korean leader and the continuation of the maximum pressure policy that has appeared to soften North Korea’s belligerence. But, like the rest of the world, Japan wants to know if North Korea’s leader is sincere. Again, the one way to assure the world that North Korea is ready to change its errant ways is to release the abductees.

Shinsuke J. Sugiyama is the ambassador of Japan to the United States.