December 13, 2021

Statement of Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director, at "International cooperation to resolve the abduction issue as a global issue" (Int'l Symposium hosted by the Government of Japan, December 11, 2021)

By Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director

NOTE: Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director, delivered pre-recorded video remarks at "International cooperation to resolve the abduction issue as a global issue," an international symposium that was hosted by the Government of Japan in Tokyo on Saturday, December 11, 2021. The full text of his remarks is reproduced below. The official video recording of the event can be accessed at this link.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Greetings and warm wishes. Let me begin by thanking the Government of Japan for the opportunity to address this extraordinarily important symposium. The entire world continues to struggle with the COVID pandemic. During these difficult times, we remember and pray for abductees from Japan and other countries as well as their families, who continue to seek closure and justice.

For a brief time, early on, the DPRK’s Kim regime addressed COVID prevention as a public health threat. Then, it politicized COVID prevention, instituting draconian controls aimed at cracking down on factors threatening its grip on power, in particular informal markets, smuggled Chinese cell phones, and information coming in from the outside world.

While the Kim regime claims that the DPRK is COVID-free, domestic and cross-border travel restrictions have taken a heavy toll on North Korea’s human rights and humanitarian situation. While food shortages are not as bad as the 1990s and the DPRK is likely not on the verge of a great famine, the humanitarian situation is dire. The international community needs access and transparency in order to assess the real humanitarian needs of North Koreans, in particular the needs of most vulnerable groups: Women, children, the elderly, and people in detention, especially political prisoners.

The Biden administration has repeatedly emphasized human rights as a pillar of our U.S. foreign policy, an essential component of the core values we share with Japan, the Republic of Korea, and other key allies, friends, and partners. The Biden administration has also underlined multilateralism as another pillar of our U.S. foreign policy. The Third Committee of the UN General Assembly has recently adopted its latest resolution on human rights in the DPRK. Regrettably, the DPRK continues to refuse to engage in dialogue with the United States or Japan. Moreover, the DPRK has repeatedly tested missiles, although only short-range.

As the Kim regime continues to violate the human rights of its own people and threaten neighboring countries as well as international peace and security with its nuclear and missile development, family members of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea have continued to suffer. However difficult it may be, the international community must resolve this critical issue.

The entire world will be undergoing a post-COVID reset. North Korea, as isolated as it is, will be no exception. North Korea’s trade with China will likely expand to previous levels. The international community may consider disbursing humanitarian assistance to North Korea, hopefully while upholding transparency, the need for access, and a human rights up front approach aimed to assist most vulnerable groups first. UN, U.S., Japanese and other sanctions do not target the ordinary people of North Korea, but simply aim to do away with the Kim regime’s development and proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. That said, Russian and Chinese attempts to float draft resolutions to unconditionally ease the North Korean sanctions regime will continue.

As the DPRK undergoes a post-COVID reset, there can be hope for the North Korean people. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has clearly signaled that he is ready to meet with North Korea’s leader face-to-face. I am certain that the governments and citizens of Japan and the United States would stand together, ready to assist the people of North Korea in seeking a bright future. This would be possible only if North Korea’s leadership made a strategic decision to change course, improve the human rights and humanitarian situation of its people, do away with its obstinate development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other tools of death, and focus on development instead. Most importantly, if the North Korean leadership wishes to qualify for Japanese, U.S., and international humanitarian and development assistance, it must provide a full, final, and verifiable solution to the abduction conundrum. If abductees are still in North Korea, they must be reunited with their family members. If they passed away while held against their will in North Korea, their remains must be returned to their families and hometowns. Japanese families have suffered far too long, and so have the families of abductees from other countries. They deserve closure. They deserve to know the fate of their loved ones taken by the DPRK regime. They deserve to be reunited with their loved ones.

As representative of the Washington, D.C.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), I am fully and painfully aware that a huge responsibility rests on the shoulders of human rights civil society organizations (CSOs). We have recently been informed that UN Economic and Social Council-accredited CSOs will be able to obtain UN passes and physical access, effective January 2022. While we have made the best of virtual programs under COVID, physical presence is important. I look forward to rejoining forces with CSOs from Japan and other like-minded democracies. I look forward to fully dedicating our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls to bringing closure and justice to Japanese abductees and their families. Their torment at the hands of the Kim regime must come to an end.