Geneva: A United Nations rights expert squared off with North Korea on Monday, urging the global community to resolve the fate of 200,000 people allegedly abducted by Pyongyang, and to refer perpetrators to the International Criminal Court.
"There is a real sense of urgency to solve this matter once and for all," said Marzuki Darusman, the UN`s independent expert on the rights situation in North Korea.
Addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday, Darusman presented his latest report on the human rights situation in the country, including a strategy aimed at keeping the issue of abductions in the international spotlight.
Darusman urged fast and effective action on the matter, noting "the victims, those who have survived, and their families are, for the most part, well advanced in the years," and stressing "an international approach to the issue is now required."
Pointing out that the abductions had "caused unspeakable suffering to the victims and their families," he called for the cases to be brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
North Korean representative Kim Yong-Ho attacked Darusman`s report as "politicised," telling the council the former Indonesian attorney general himself was "under manipulation of... hostile forces" and represented "their ill-minded political objectives."
He also cited recent news reports that Darusman had called for "regime change" in North Korea, accusing him of misusing "human right issues as a means to dismantle or overthrow the country`s system."
Darusman rejected the charge, and denounced "vain attempts to discredit me."
A UN-mandated investigation issued a searing report in February 2014, describing a litany of rights abuses in North Korea, including the abductions of an estimated 200,000 foreign nationals from at least 12 countries.
Most of them were South Koreans left stranded after the 1950-1953 Korean War, but hundreds of others from around the world have since been taken or disappeared while visiting the secretive Stalinist state.
Among those, the number of Japanese citizens believed to have been taken to train North Korean spies in Japanese language and customs are now estimated "in the hundreds", Darusman told reporters.Darusman urged a "comprehensive mapping of international abductions and enforced disappearances," and for the UN Human Rights Council, General Assembly and Security Council to maintain pressure on the country.
He also suggested to reporters that an international panel on the issue could be held this year and a full-blown international conference perhaps "sometime mid-next year".
The representatives of the European Union and Japan, which are set to table a resolution on the human rights situation in the country, were among many to hail Darusman`s report.
"The international community`s concerns regarding the human rights situation in (North Korea) have continued to grow," Japan`s representative Kaji Misako told the council.
US representative Robert King meanwhile voiced deep concern at the "widespread and gross human rights violations committed by the (North Korean) government."
Abductees who remain alive and their descendants should also be permitted "to return to their country of origin," while the remains of those who have died must be repatriated, he said.
While North Korea is accused of snatching foreigners, it also faces accusations of sending many of its own nationals abroad to work in "bonded labour".
Darusman said as many as 20,000 North Koreans were working abroad and being forced to hand over almost all of their earnings to Pyongyang, with China and Russia believed to house most of them.
Activists with the North Korea Watch organisation meanwhile told reporters in Geneva Monday that the number is well above 100,000, with North Koreans forced to work in over 40 countries in sectors ranging from forestry and construction to restaurants.