North Korea may have abducted up to 180,000 foreigners from 14 countries over the last six decades, much more than what has been reported, according to a new report by a U.S.-based human rights watchdog.
Hundreds of foreign abductees whose identities are unknown may remain in closely-monitored detention in the reclusive Stalinist nation, said the report released by The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) on Thursday.
The report, entitled “Taken! North Korea’s Criminal Abduction of Citizens of Other Countries,” said North Korea’s history of abducting foreigners is not restricted to Japan and limited to a small group of people as the regime would have the international community believe.
HRNK unveiled the report at a press briefing in Washington that was attended by the Japanese ambassador and diplomats from South Korea, Thailand, and the Netherlands.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted the existence of an abduction program to then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during the latter’s visit to Pyongyang in September 2002, but sought to downplay its scale.
The report said that while Kim eventually disclosed the abduction of 13 Japanese nationals, his admission “did not tell the whole story” and left “misleading impressions.”
“The impression deliberately left by Kim Jong Il was that the number of abductions was small, carried out by a handful of perpetrators in disparate actions and limited in scope,” the report said.
A long history
Instead, the report asserts, the North Korean policy of abduction has a long history and has targeted foreigners worldwide, including those from China, Pyongyang’s key ally and aid provider.
“North Korea’s policy of abducting foreign citizens dates back to the earliest days of the regime, and to policy decisions made by North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung himself,” it said.
“Those abducted came from widely diverse backgrounds, numerous nationalities, both genders, and all ages, and were taken from places as far away as London, Copenhagen, Zagreb, Beirut, Hong Kong, and China, in addition to Japan.”
According to the report, North Korea initially targeted South Koreans during the Korean War, later abducting Koreans lured from Japan. But in the late 1970s, the report said, the regime turned its attention to other foreigners who were forced to teach North Korean operatives how to infiltrate their countries.
Since then, Chinese nationals who assist North Korean refugees have been targeted for abduction, it said.
The report asserts that as many as 180,000 foreigners may have been abducted by North Korea since the establishment of the regime. They also included Americans, Dutch, French, Italians, Lebanese, Malaysians, South Koreans, and Thais.
It referenced a 2010 white paper by the Seoul-based Korea Institute for National Unification which said that some 83,000 South Koreans had been abducted by the North during the Korean War and that an additional 3,800 South Koreans have been abducted since the War Armistice was signed in July 1953.
The report said that 93,000 Japanese of Korean ethnicity and some 200 Chinese, most of whom are of Korean ethnicity, have been abducted since the program began.
It added that while the Japanese government officially lists 17 Japanese citizens as having been abducted by North Korea, some Japanese groups put the number as high as 100.
The report said that at least 25 other foreign citizens have been seen in North Korea by numerous witnesses, who “can be assumed to have been taken against their will and are more than likely being held against their will.”
The report said North Korea had engaged a number of different methods to abduct foreigners, including the infiltration of foreign territory to monitor targets and abduct them from their home countries or from third countries in which they were traveling.
It said North Korea forced them to work for the North Korean regime, forced them into marriages, and subjected them to physical abuse, torture and death.
“North Korea’s policy of abducting foreign citizens was intentional, directed by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il themselves, executed by an extensive well-trained bureaucracy, and far-reaching in its scope and geographic reach,” the report said.
Government departments involved in the abductions reported directly to Kim Il Sung, and after his death, Kim Jong Il, who personally met some of the abductees on their arrival in North Korea, it said.
“There is ample evidence that the regime had an official bureaucratic structure that employed, managed and monitored those abducted while they were in North Korea.”
The report said that “hundreds” of abductees may remain in North Korea, who are not known to be there.
It said that the international community should not assume that Kim Jong Il has terminated North Korea’s practice of abducting foreigners simply because he had admitted to abductions in the past.
“His admission was not the whole truth, his government has provided false and unsubstantiated assertions since the admission, and demands for thorough bilateral investigations have repeatedly been denied by North Korea,” the report said.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.