U.N. urges North Korea to confirm fate of forcibly disappeared people

FILE PHOTO-United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Volker Turk delivers a statement in Port-au-Prince, Haiti February 10, 2023. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

SEOUL (Reuters) - The United Nations Human Rights office in Seoul called on North Korea on Tuesday to confirm the fate and whereabouts of people who have been disappeared under its regime, accusing Pyongyang of violating the rights of the victims and their loved ones for decades.

In a report on enforced disappearance and abductions by North Korea, the U.N. rights office said North Korea should acknowledge that it has engaged in a state policy of enforced disappearances since 1950, and take immediate steps to end such violations.

The report, based on interviews with defectors, former abductees and relatives of victims, details accounts of disappearances, including arbitrary detentions in North Korea and abduction of nationals from South Korea, Japan and other countries.

"Enforced disappearance is a profound violation of many rights at once, and responsibility lies with the state," U.N. Human Rights Chief Volker Turk said.

Pyongyang has repeatedly rejected accusations of rights abuses and criticised U.N. investigations on its situation as a U.S.-backed scheme to interfere with its internal affairs.

According to the report, many victims of enforced disappearance within North Korea were sent, often for life, to political prison camps or other detention sites.

"The testimonies from this report demonstrate that entire generations of families have lived with the grief of not knowing the fate of spouses, parents, children and siblings," Turk said.

The international community should join efforts to investigate the crimes committed in the reclusive country, the report said, highlighting the urgency of the matter given the advanced age of the victims and their families.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Tuesday the international community should have better knowledge about North Korea's dire human rights situation and urged officials to work on informing the domestic and international communities of the North's human rights violations.

The U.N. report comes amid heightened tensions in the region. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the scaling up of the production of weapons-grade nuclear material, and said the country should be ready to use the weapons at any time, its state media reported on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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