Published : 2013-08-24 12:21
Updated : 2013-08-24 12:21
A United Nations panel tasked with investigating North Korea's human rights violations said Friday it will travel to Japan next week to gather information on the communist nation's abduction of Japanese nationals decades ago.
The three-member Commission of Inquiry (COI) is currently in South Korea for five days of public hearings on the human rights situation in the North.
It also plans to visit Japan from Tuesday to Sept. 1.
As the North Korean regime has not replied to an invitation to join in those hearings, the panel's probe is based largely on testimony by North Korean defectors and those knowledgeable about the abduction issue.
"Lacking direct access to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, we are still able to gather numerous first-hand accounts from people who have managed to leave the country in recent years," Michael Kirby, chairman of the commission, said in a news release.
"We hope their brave decision to testify will raise the international profile of the human rights situation in North Korea -- not just with a general global audience, but also among the member states of the United Nations."
Kirby, a retired judge from Australia, reiterated that the commission is conducting the inquiry with impartiality and with no preconceptions.
North Korea abducted a number of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2002, Pyongyang admitted that its agents had abducted 13 Japanese people in order to train spies to operate in Japan, while rights groups say that the true figure could be far more.
North Korea allowed five of the abductees to return home in 2002, insisting the rest had died.
"Although the number of abductions is subject to debate, there are at least 17 acknowledged cases," said the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. "The likelihood is many more."
The abduction issue is a longstanding point of tension between North Korea and Japan.
Japan's Shinzo Abe government stated that it is determined to bring back all Japanese nations abducted by Pyongyang.
"We will, at any cost, resolve the (abduction) issue under the Abe administration and bring home all of the victims," Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of the abduction issue, was quoted as saying by Japan's Kyodo News Service on Friday.
He made the remarks during a visit to a site where Megumi Yokota, one of the victims, is believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents in 1977.
Meanwhile, the COI was established in March under a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution for a one-year probe into North Korea's human rights record.
It is scheduled to present an oral update to the council in September in Geneva, and to the General Assembly in New York in October. A final written report will be submitted to the council next March.