The Washington Post

Obama meets with relatives of Japanese abducted by North Korea

TOKYO -- President Obama met Thursday with three relatives of Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korea, a White House official confirmed, a move that underscored growing international concern over how to handle that regime’s human rights abuses.

The President “was moved by their tragic experiences and reaffirmed our commitment to work with Japan to address North Korea's deplorable treatment of its own people and resolve the issue of abductees,” according to the official, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss a private meeting.

Sakie Yokota, the mother of a women who was kidnapped by North Koreans in 1977 as she was headed home from badminton practice, was one of the meeting’s attendees. The case of her daughter, Megumi — one of 13 Japanese citizens the North Korean government has acknowledged abducting in the 1970s and 1980s -- has been a source of friction between the two countries for years.

The session, which took place after Obama held a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, highlights a looming policy question facing not just Japan but the United States and South Korea: how hard to press the U.N. Security Council to refer North Korea’s human rights practices to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague.

While it is clear China will veto such a move, human rights advocates — as well as some government officials — have argued the only way to ensure North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un is held accountable is by establishing a standing body that will collect evidence and preserve it. A U.N. commission charged with investigating North Korea’s human rights record recently released its findings, detailing widespread abuses by the totalitarian regime.

Abe placed the item on the agenda for Thursday’s bilateral meeting between the two leaders, according to individuals who asked not to be identified in order to speak about internal government deliberations.

In Thursday’s press conference, Abe said he plans to continue pressing for a “resolution of the abduction issue, and the president expressed his support.”

The North Korean government, which returned five of its abductees to Japan, has said Megumi Yokota committed suicide. But both her mother, who has emerged as a powerful public advocate, and many Japanese citizens do not accept that explanation. President George W. Bush met with Sakie Yokota  in Washington eight years ago.

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said Obama and other world leaders need to keep pushing for the establishment of a commission to investigate North Korea’s treatment of both its citizens and those from other countries.

“That will serve as a practical deterrent for some actors from pursuing the worst abuses,” he said, adding that while no one expects the ICC to establish a tribunal immediately, “The stage needs to be set for a potential resolution at some future point.”

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday. Get caught up on the race.
New Hampshire primary: What to expect
New Hampshire will hold a traditional primary just eight days after the Iowa caucuses. Polling in the Granite state has historically been volatile in the final weeks before the primary. After the Iowa caucuses, many New Hampshire voters cement their opinions.
The Post's Ed O'Keefe says ...
Something has clicked for Bush in New Hampshire in the past few days. What has transpired by no means guarantees him a top-tier finish in Tuesday’s Republican primary here, but the crowds turning out to see him are bigger, his delivery on the stump is crisper and some of his key rivals have stumbled. At the least, the developments have mostly silenced talk of a hasty exit and skittish donors.
The feminist appeal may not be working for Clinton
In New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders is beating Clinton among women by eight percentage points, according to a new CNN-WMUR survey. This represents a big shift from the results last week in the Iowa caucuses, where Clinton won women by 11 points.
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She left the state Sunday to go to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 40%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.