TOKYO (AFP) - A United Nations special envoy on human rights in North Korea said on Monday (Jan 18) the country should be held to account for state-sponsored abductions, slamming the disappearances as a "crime against humanity".
The condemnation from Mr Marzuki Darusman, who spoke during a meeting with members of Japanese families whose children and siblings were kidnapped by North Koreans, is the latest rebuke against Pyongyang over widespread rights abuses.
"This is not just a tragedy, but it is a crime against humanity," he told reporters.
He called on North Korea to "acknowledge that abductions have been undertaken by the state with complicity and knowledge at the highest level of leadership".
The special envoy will report his findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in March, before the end of his tenure in July.
Mr Darusman was involved in a 2014 report from the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea that detailed what it described as horrific abuses in the isolated nation. After the report was issued, the UN Security Council agreed to formally take up the human rights situation there.
North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had dispatched agents to kidnap 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s who were tasked with training its spies in Japanese language and customs.
Five of the abductees were allowed to return to Japan but Pyongyang has insisted, without producing solid evidence, the eight others are dead.
Around 500 South Koreans were also kidnapped by North Korea in the years following the 1950-1953 Korean War.
Suspicions persist in Japan that many more of its citizens have been abducted than officially recognised.
The lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries, along with Pyongyang's pariah status internationally over its nuclear and missile programme, have hampered progress on the issue.
"My beloved child was taken away and many years have passed," Ms Sakie Yokota, whose 13-year old daughter Megumi was abducted in 1977, told Mr Darusman.
"It's been 38 years but I haven't been able to meet or speak with her. There is no information as to how she has been doing."
North Korea has said Megumi was one of the deceased, insisting she committed suicide, though her parents and other supporters say Pyongyang cannot be believed.
Japan and North Korea struck a deal in 2014 in which the secretive state said it would investigate the abduction of Japanese citizens, though Tokyo has voiced frustration at the lack of progress.