ROK Official Favors Piling Pressure on Pyongyang over Abductions; DPRK Defectors Allude to Japanese Abductees During Interviews

Kazuki Koike / The Yomiuri Shimbun
South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yung Ho talks during his interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun in Seoul on Thursday.

SEOUL — South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yung Ho is determined to rescue people abducted by North Korea, and he emphasized an approach that cranks up the pressure on Pyongyang to deal with this issue.

“We recognize that South Korea and Japan must act in solidarity on North Korean human rights issues,” Kim said in an exclusive interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun in Seoul on Thursday.

Officials of the ministry’s North Korea Human Rights Records Center survey North Korean defectors through a face-to-face interview based on a questionnaire. The details learned from these surveys are reportedly stored at the South Korean Justice Ministry’s in-house archive on North Korea’s human rights.

More than 30,000 North Korean defectors are currently living in South Korea.

Defectors alluded to Japanese people about two times during previous ministry surveys. However, Japan was not specifically included in the questions. Consequently, very few answers mentioned Japan, and the content of those answers reportedly was vague.

“By including questions [about Japanese abductees] in the survey, we might be able to confirm specific cases and locations,” Kim said. “This also could be the first step toward collecting even more information.”

During the 1950-53 Korean War, many South Korean civilians were forcibly taken to North Korea and detained there. Even after the conflict, fishermen and other South Koreans were abducted by Pyongyang, and about 500 people remain unaccounted for. The conciliatory approach Seoul has taken toward North Korea so far has been a major reason why these missing people have not become a bigger issue.

According to Kim, “The international community is worried that when an administration in South Korea changes, the level of interest in North Korean human rights issues will change.”

Kim outlined a South Korean government plan to build a “national North Korean human rights center” in Seoul that would serve as a permanent hub to widely convey information on Pyongyang’s human rights violations. This center is scheduled to be completed in 2026, and the government has finished securing the necessary funding and land for the project. The center aims to shed light on North Korea’s human rights issues through joint exhibitions with museums that introduce violations of human rights committed in other nations.

Kim pointed out that enhanced Tokyo-Seoul cooperation was crucial given the possibility that former U.S. President Donald Trump, who met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks in person, could return to the White House after November’s presidential election. “It’s vital that South Korea and Japan build up cooperative ties so we can also respond to any political changes in the United States,” the minister said.