UN investigator: Pressure North Korea on hundreds of abductions of foreigners

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. special rapporteur on North Korea said Monday the closed-off country must be held to account for the hundreds of people it's accused of abducting from Japan, South Korea and elsewhere in recent decades.

In his annual report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Marzuki Darusman laid out his strategy for keeping pressure on Pyongyang after a groundbreaking commission of inquiry on the country's vast human rights abuses led the U.N. Security Council to put the issue on its agenda last year as a matter of international peace and security.

North Korea made some unprecedented and welcome outreach to human rights officials last year but quickly withdrew after the council's decision in December, Darusman said Monday. The country also dropped its offers for possible visits by Darusman and the U.N.'s human rights chief.

Darusman called that reversal "deeply regrettable."

"The tide of international attention and concern is unstoppable - and this posture of isolation is no longer sustainable," he said, emphasizing that he now wants the world to engage North Korea on the abductions that the commission of inquiry has documented.

Darusman said more than 200,000 people have entered North Korea and have never been heard from, with an overwhelming majority Koreans who crossed into the north during the Korean War.

But other countries have reported abductions. He said Japan's national police are looking into 881 possible abduction cases attributable to North Korea over the years, in addition to 21 known cases of abductees yet to be returned to Japan.

"In addition to victims from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, the commission of inquiry recorded cases of abductions and enforced disappearances of nationals from Lebanon, Malaysia, Romania, Singapore and Thailand, and possibly others," Darusman said.

North Korea quickly rejected Monday's report, calling it based on fabrications and saying the special rapporteur was being manipulated by "hostile forces."

Kim Yong-Ho, a counsellor with North Korea's U.N. mission in Geneva, pointed to Darusman's comments in a recent interview with The Associated Press in which he said North Korea's leadership system "should be completely dismantled."

Darusman, anticipating that objection, told the Human Rights Council, "I have never advocated in any way for regime change in the country."

He said the commission of inquiry found that the abductions amounted to crimes against humanity and could fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Darusman also said he "remains convinced" that the Security Council should refer North Korea's human rights situation to the ICC, though such a move is likely to be vetoed by permanent council member China and perhaps Russia. Pyongyang has tried to cultivate both over the years as rare allies.

Darusman proposed that bilateral talks by Japan and others with North Korea on the abductions issue should continue, but he said collective action by the international community is needed as well.

He called on the Security Council to keep the issue alive by discussing it at least twice a year.

"Sooner or later, the government of (North Korea) will have to answer for its actions," Darusman said.

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