The ICAS Lectures

No. 2004-0519-MxN

The North Korean Refugees and Human Rights Issues:
Japan's Angle.

Masaharu Nakagawa

ICAS Spring Symposium &
Humanity, Peace and Security
May 19, 2004 Wednesday 12:30 PM - 5:30 PM
United States Rayburn House Office Building Room RHOB 2200

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

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Biographic Sketch & Links: Masaharu Nakagawa

The North Korean Refugees and Human Rights Issues:
Japan's Angle

Masaharu Nakagawa

It is a great pleasure and honor for me to have this opportunity, to present our view of the North Korean human rights problem. I really value your wholehearted efforts on behalf of the people suppressed by the dictatorship of Kim Jong Il. I also value your sending a strong appeal to the international community regarding the urgent need to take various measures for rescuing North Koreans, and in particular refugees struggling in China, from their current misery.

Almost two years has passed since the dramatic meeting of Prime Minister Koizumi and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang. Not only Koizumi himself but also the Japanese people were really shocked and powerless in the face of the confession made by Kim Jong Il regarding the abductions made by the North Korean regime. The PDRK had actually kidnapped quite a number of Japanese citizens and forced them to work for years as trainers of spies. Five abductees have been returned to their homeland so far and presently the return of eight of their family members is being negotiated.

The abduction issue has been evoking a strange nationalistic sentiment among Japanese people. "Donít be a coward. Letís show our muscle." And further more, "Rearm Japan with nuclear weapons." These slogans are blasted out by the loud speakers of ultra right wing propaganda vans in the streets of Tokyo. As a result, we have passed the economic sanction bill last month and are preparing another shipment control bill against North Korea.

Nonetheless, the harsh reality is that neither the United States nor China has much inclination to take up this issue at the six party talks now being held in Beijing. Even the South Korean government seems to have no intention of taking this abduction issue seriously, despite the fact that there are 481 abductees acknowledged by the South Korean government itself as still being held in North Korea.

Premier Koizumi has decided to revisit Pyongyang on the 22ed. The family members of the Japanese hostages will be returned for the Japanese offer of humanitarian support for North Korea. It would be a great political performance if Prime Minister Koizumi visits Pyongyang again, taking them back from the hands of Kim Jong Il. Honestly speaking, this would be a grave blow for us as members of the opposition party, particularly as we are facing the Upper House Election in this coming July in Japan.

Apart from this political impact, I am deeply concerned about the present process of negotiation. Firstly, the abduction issue was supposed to be a diplomatic card of the Japanese side as well as the South Koreans. But it is now tactically used by North Koreans only to draw more economic and humanitarian help from the Japanese government. Secondly; the risk is increasing that the North Koreans would end the human right negotiations. They would say "We have sent back 8 family members to Japan. So, there is no other invasion of human rights remaining on the North Korean side. Letís return to the past. How much is Japan going to pay for your misbehavior throughout the Japanese occupation period to the end of the Second World War?"

This is one of the main reasons why I came here to join you in todayís symposium. I firmly believe that we should not allow Kim Jong Il to evade responsibility for the present human right issues being committed by his dictatorship regime. There are still 11 more people classified as abductees by the Japanese police and over 100 missing people who are suspected of having been kidnapped by North Korea. We have over 950,000 Korean Japanese, with 3,000 Japanese spouses, who returned to live in North Korea. They have been subjects of severe discrimination and ostracized by the regime for the simple reason that they once lived in Japan. Many of them tried to escape from North Korea by crossing the border river into the northeastern part of China. It is said that there are far more than 50,000 refugees or asylum seekers, including the people of Japanese origin, struggling to survive in northern part of China. Here we have to face the Chinese strict policy sending those refugees back to North Korea.

I visited Yanbian province in the Chinese border area at the beginning of last year. Chinese local government officials kept me under strict control. They arranged my schedule beautifully just so I would see and have it explained to me that these North Koreans are just smugglers seeking better economic opportunities in China. They have the harsh perception that these people should be judged by Chinese law, which defines their status as illegal immigrants. They certainly seem to know that North Koreans usually are pushed towards severe conditions in China too, such as profoundly low paid work, prostitution of young women and childrenís traffickers. Farther more, once they are repatriated to the North, they usually are sent into detention centers, and possibly tortured near to death.

Two years ago, we politicians gathered in Seoul and formed the International Congressmenís League for the Human Rights issues of North Korea. We came from the UK, Mongolia, Japan and the U.S., and of course South Korea. On that occasion, we made the following major action programs.

Firstly, we can appeal to our respective governments. They should take up human rights issues concerning North Korea. This should be placed on the table of 6 party talks and given parity with the WMD issue. Secondly, we will proceed to form a fact-finding mission group and will visit the northeastern area of China. In that occasion, we will hopefully invite UNHCR staffs to become members of the mission. Thirdly, we will appeal to the United Nations to take action to urge the Chinese government to recognize North Korean asylum seekers as refugees and to make an appropriate international framework for the formation of their refugee camps in and outside of China.

To my regret, none of these three action programs have been actualized yet. You can easily foresee the strong antagonism coming from the Chinese government. It seems to be difficult at the present time for the Chinese leadership to hear the phrase, human rights, and still remain in a calm frame of mind. The Chinese donít like the idea of human rights. Further more, the Chinese government seems to believe that, although North Korea armed with nuclear weapons is not permissible, if Kim redeems himself, the regime should continue to exist. When the regime collapses, there needs to be a grand design for Korean peninsula as a whole, as its geopolitical balance is the clue to regional stability. The newly established balance has to be one which convinces China that they can obtain a neutral security structure vis-à-vis the United States and Japan. So, all governments of 6 countries incline to maintain their status quo.

It is why we all know that it takes more time if things only go through government channels. In the process of democratization and anti-establishment movement, we have a great predecessor in the European experience more than a decade ago. The history of the collapse of the East Germany in 90s can throw light on the case of North Korea. Freedom seekers gathered in various sites and refugee camps prepared by neighboring countries and UNHCR. They all became centers of democratization movements in and outside of East Germany. In Europe, it was the people who stood up and made history. The exodus of huge waves of refugees had been plotted and planned among the small groups and families of smugglers freed from the East beforehand on a day-to-day basis. NGOs as well as individuals mostly supported them.

As I mentioned before, most Japanese are focusing upon an abduction issue. Only abduction. I think it was our fault, in the fact that there was a lack of political leadership in Japan, which prevented us from making an international network for this issue. We should have broadened our perspectives to the point that the abduction issue is to be included in the universal agenda of the human rights movements. More than 100 missing Japanese are suffering. The 95,000 returnees are discriminated at the bottom of North Korean society. They should be seen as a common cause to be worked on by both North and South Korea. Japanese as a whole should feel sympathy for this movement and participate in efforts to return the 481 South Korean abductees and members of divided families to South Korea, as well as settling asylum for the over 50,000 North Korean freedom seekers suffering in China.

When a network of human right movements can be established among people in neighboring countries and began to create real momentum, as happened in the case of East Germany 14 years ago, I firmly believe that it will be the starting point to the march toward the real stabilization of North East Asia and better lives for its people. I pledge that I will lead Japan in that direction and will give my full cooperation to human rights movements in other countries.

Thank you once again for giving me such a wonderful opportunity, and I am looking forward to receiving many stimulating comments from my fellow participants.

This page last updated 5/31/2004 jdb

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