Japan, U.S. Press North Korean Abduction Issue at UN Side Event

(Bloomberg) -- The United Nations Security Council debated conflicts from Syria to Libya to Bosnia this week. Missing from the agenda: North Korea’s missile launches, explicitly prohibited by unanimous council resolutions.

With the U.S. and its allies offering a muted response to Kim Jong Un’s latest violation of international resolutions, UN attention on North Korea came at a small side event on abduction cases.

Relatives of people held hostage by Pyongyang, including the father of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died in 2017 following more than a year of captivity in North Korea, spoke in harsh and moving terms at an event co-sponsored by Japan, Australia, the U.S. and the European Union.

Japan, U.S. Press North Korean Abduction Issue at UN Side Event

“We use this term Chairman Kim, but he should really be called criminal Kim,” said Fred Warmbier. “We start by telling the truth.”

Even though ballistic missile testing is banned by council resolutions pushed by President Donald Trump’s former ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, the U.S. has largely held back on highlighting the latest violations as Trump continues to seek a diplomatic deal. European officials earlier this week suggested holding a meeting but the U.S. decided to wait as it assesses the situation, diplomats said.

Yet Jonathan Cohen, an American envoy to the UN, used the Friday event as an opportunity to draw attention to North Korea’s human rights violations.

“We remain deeply concerned about the human rights issue and North Korea’s egregious human rights record,” Cohen, the U.S. mission’s charge d’affairs said. “The United States stands with those whose loved ones were abducted.”

Japan, U.S. Press North Korean Abduction Issue at UN Side Event

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has asked Trump to discuss with Kim the fate of 12 Japanese citizens abducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Tokyo officially lists 17 of its citizens as having been kidnapped by North Korea, five of whom were freed in 2002.

Japan wants the issue of the abductees to be given the same weight as demands regarding North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in U.S. negotiations with Kim. As of April 2017, more than 12 million people had signed petitions from the families urging Abe to continue efforts to bring the rest home.

“The scale of damage caused by abduction is extensive,” said Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who is responsible for the abductees issue. “We have taken every diplomatic opportunity to raise the issue of abduction and the U.S.. has manifested its understanding.”

The UN event came a day after North Korea fired two short-range missiles in its second weapons launch in a week. The launch has threatened to undermine nuclear disarmament talks with the U.S.

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