A delegation of Japanese officials and activists urged the Obama administration on Thursday redesignate North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism over its failure to resolve cases of missing Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents decades ago and taken to the Stalinist state.
Eight members of Japan’s parliament and three Japanese human rights activists spoke to reporters at the National Press Club to denounce North Korea for what they said was a 30-year record of kidnapping and illegally holding Japanese citizens in violation of international human rights norms.
The group also called for halting food aid to North Korea and reimposing economic sanctions.
“The victims of the abduction are still waiting for our help,” said Jin Matsubara, a Japanese parliament member and head of the parliamentary league for the repatriation of Japanese abductees. “We are frustrated to see that there hasn’t been any progress in addressing the abduction issue.”
Resolving the fate of the missing Japanese has been an emotionally charged issue in Japan since 2002, when North Korean leader Kim Jong-il acknowledged the abductions and allowed some of the victims to return home.
The kidnapping victims were used to train North Korean intelligence officers in the language and culture of Japan.
The group said there has been little progress on the issue since 2008 and called upon the United States to pressure North Korea politically and economically to follow through on a pledge to investigate the disappearance of eight missing Japanese who the North Koreans assert died in North Korea. The Pyongyang government has failed to provide conclusive evidence of their deaths, despite requests from Japan.
The officials met members of Congress and State Department officials this week to discuss the fate of at least 13 Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents between 1977 and 1983.
The Japanese government thinks eight abductees, including a woman who was kidnapped when she was 13 years old, may still be alive. Since the abduction case is unresolved, the State Department should reinstate North Korea on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, Mr. Matsubara said. Pyongyang was taken off the list in 2008 as part of efforts to coax the regime to give up its nuclear arms.
Shigeo Iizuka, chairman of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, said the Obama administration has called the abductions an “intolerable” violation of human rights, but “we haven’t seen any concrete measures in addressing this issue.”
The Japanese lawmakers said meetings with State Department officials were not encouraging.
Despite North Korea’s failure to investigate the purported deaths or disappearances of the Japanese, the State Department declined to take a position on whether or not it would put North Korea back on the list for states sponsoring terrorism.
“On this argument, we could not get a clear response from the State Department,” Mr. Matsubara said. “Senior officials told us North Korea is a difficult actor to deal with.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is supporting the Japanese. She said in a statement: “We cannot overlook the heinous North Korean practice of abducting Japanese and South Korean citizens, and citizens of other countries.”
“It must be made clear to Pyongyang that its actions will not be without consequences. I believe that the U.S. must hold Pyongyang accountable,” Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said. “It’s time for U.S. to ratchet up its pressure on the regime in response to its growing laundry list of abuses.”