Experts Urge Japan to Accept All NK Defectors

Could Resolve Abduction Issue

On March 11, in Pusan, South Korea, the family of Yaeko Taguchi, one of the Japanese victims abducted by the North Korean government, met with Kim Hyun-hee, the woman who was once sentenced to death for bombing a KAL airliner in 1987. People in Japan watched, enthralled, as they hugged each other on TV.  Testimony by Kim Hyun-hee had revealed that Yaeko Taguchi, the Japanese woman abducted in 1978, was forced to train Kim Hyun-hee to pass as a Japanese. Read that news story here.

Watching them on TV, I was shocked to hear what Mr. Koichi Iizuka (age 32) said.  He is the eldest son of the abductee, Ms. Taguchi. He said, “My wish during the last 5 years has come true.  I was so happy to hear Ms. Kim Hyun-hee clearly state that Yaeko-san is alive.”

Mr. Iizuka was unable to call his own parent “Mother” like anybody else, even if he wanted to.  The best he could manage was to call his mother by her first name “Yaeko-san” like an unrelated person.  This, to me, revealed just how much grief and emotional scarring the abduction had caused. He was only one year old when his mother disappeared.  He remembers neither touching her nor seeing her.  He will probably never remember his mother, no matter how hard he tries.

There is great distress, grief, hatred and despair among the abductees and the missing Japanese who are believed also abducted by the North Korean government, as well as all their families. Add to these numbers the 93,000 ethnic Koreans and their Japanese spouses who moved to North Korea under the repatriation campaign (more than 100,000 people, if we include their families). 

Their fates have been forever disrupted by North Korea.

What kind of country is Japan? It allowed these serious issues to slide until they have become unbearable. Why cannot the Japanese government fulfill its duties to protect the lives and assets of its own citizens?

Has the Japanese government taken effective measures?  

No doubt, many Japanese feel great frustration over their own government’s lax attitude toward solving the issue of the human rights of its people violated by the North Korean government. 

I do not believe that our government has taken effective measures to handle the abduction issue. Nor are they helping the Japan-born ethnic Koreans and their Japanese spouses who wish to return to Japan. Neither are they enthusiastic about accepting North Korean defectors who wish to resettle in Japan.

It has been more than 31 years since the abductees, including Megumi Yokota and Yaeko Taguchi, were taken. The abduction issue, however, remains unresolved.  We understand the basic policy of the Japanese government, which is “dialogue and pressure.”  The pressures, such as increased economic sanctions and the banning of North Korean ships from docking in Japan may be felt as a body blow by North Korea. 

Obviously, though, no one believes that such pressures are effective enough to cause the North Korean government to change its mind and return the abductees to Japan.  North Korea is a totalitarian nation with military-first policies.

Gathering information is vital   

What puzzles us is that, for example, the Japanese government has blocked the inflow of people and goods as part of these sanctions.  This means that we are losing opportunities to gather information on the abductees and to discover clues about what North Korean authorities are thinking. 

To tackle issues, information gathering is vital. It is doubtful that the Japanese government has taken any information gathering measures to replace the sources we are losing due to sanctions.

For information on Japanese abductees, Japan depends on North Korean defectors who have resettled in South Korea.  We may be able to continue receive a minimum of necessary information from South Korea as long as Japan maintains good relations with that country.  This was impossible during the past decade, when presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun were in office. They both held pro-North policies.

Depending on other countries for the safety of one’s citizens is risky

Depending on other countries to obtain information about the safety of our people feels risky to me. It is leaving one’s own fate to others.  I wonder how many Japanese lawmakers are aware of how much they have lost.  The Japanese government, in relying on other countries, has failed to obtain necessary information firsthand.  Our government urgently needs to learn from this.    

Another puzzling aspect is how the Japanese government rejects access to the information brought out by North Korean defectors, who could be valuable information sources. 

Our government currently accepts only North Korean defectors who can prove up to three generations of relation to former ethnic resident Koreans and their Japanese wives who formerly moved to North Korea under the repatriation campaign initiated in 1959 in Japan.  This group of North Korean defectors has no information on the abductees. 

Because these people who went to North Korea were labeled as “contaminated by the corrupted bourgeois ideology of Japan,” once they landed in North Korea, they were subjected to harsh discrimination and oppression.  Thus, this group of people from Japan had little chance to access any information on spies, spy training officers or abductees. These matters are all classed as confidential national information by the North Korean regime.

Japan should accept all North Korean defectors 

North Korean defectors who have lost or avoided the current ongoing power struggle in the core class, the ruling class in North Korea, or who were once top officers in the Korean Worker’s Party or Army, are the ones who have had the closest access to state secrets. 

The Japanese government does not accept these people, while the South Korean government does accept them.  Our government seems intent on blocking its own access to vital information.

As described above, accepting only the defectors who are the victims of the repatriation campaign will not lead to obtaining information brought out by the core-class people who have been influential in the North Korean government.  It requires a bold decision to acquire truly important information.  The Japanese government must begin accepting essentially all North Korean defectors who wish to resettle in Japan, including high-ranking officers.

Keep on sending signals

Various pressures are required to force North Korea to deal with the abduction issue and human rights violations.  Obviously, without pressure, the totalitarian regime will never show any interest in negotiating. 

Thus, we must clearly and repeatedly show that we will never give up on the rescue of abductees from North Korea.  This requires that we continue to send clear signals that Japan stands ready to make drastic changes in its policies to solve the problems, and to do the necessary planning to develop a new system of gathering all necessary information. 

For example, signals could be directed to the North Korean government indicating that Japan is considering establishment of a new system that would accept essentially all North Korean defectors wishing to resettle in Japan. Or Japan could begin discussing the revision of immigration laws. 

Japanese lawmakers may work up a revision of the current human rights laws to accept North Korean refugees. Or they could launch an investigation into the safety of Japanese spouses in North Korea.  One assumes that those working in the legislative centers and the government offices actually know what needs to be done.  If they neglect to do these things when they are fully aware of the needs and their duties, then that would constitute betrayal of us, the people.

Further, if NGOs fail to urge the legislative centers and the government offices to carry out these tasks, then the NGOs are, in their turn, also guilty of negligence.  People expect NGOs to originate specific proposals from viewpoints that differ from the government’s.  On the other hand, the Japanese government will delay the securing of vital information and will damage national interests unless it creates and operates an efficient information gathering system.

New ideas, decisions and actions are called for to halt the human rights violations committed by North Korea.  

Report by Kato Hiroshi
(Executive Director of LFNKR)