After progress comes despair After progress comes despair
Backstories

After progress comes despair

    NHK World
    Correspondent
    Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro's 2002 meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il resulted in a breakthrough in the abduction issue. Pyongyang admitted to the kidnappings for the first time, apologized, and sent five victims home.

    Since then, there has been little progress. Of the 17 victims identified by the Japanese government , the whereabouts of 12 are still unknown. Eight parents of the missing victims died after the Japan-North Korea summit meeting.

    Second summit: no new information

    A second Japan-North Korea summit took place in 2004. Although North Korea had agreed to reinvestigate the issue, officials provided no new information.

    A second Japan-North Korea summit was held in Pyongyang on May 22, 2004

    Since then, North Korea has not provided any hard evidence to support claims regarding the victims. It has repeatedly asserted that all of the survivors have returned home.

    Kim Jong Il at the 2004 meeting (left), Koizumi Junichiro as he leaves the meeting room (right)

    Stockholm Agreement offers hope

    Hopes were high that the abduction issue would be resolved with the 2014 Stockholm Agreement.

    Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador for negotiations to normalize relations with Japan (left) and Ihara Junichi, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau (right) at the 2014 meeting

    As the result of a meeting between Japan and North Korea that was held in Stockholm, Sweden, North Korea promised to establish a Special Investigation Committee and conduct a comprehensive investigation.

    The agreement was reached with the mutual understanding that Japan would lift some of its punitive measures against North Korea. But the talks ground to a halt.

    North Korea stops cooperating

    When North Korea tested nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in 2016, Japan stepped up its sanctions. In response, North Korea announced the cancelation of the abduction investigation, and the dissolution of the Special Investigation Committee.

    President Donald Trump raises the issue

    In 2018, United States President Donald Trump raised the abduction issue during his country's first summit with North Korea. The move showed that Japan and the United States were working together to try to find a resolution.

    US President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12, 2018

    A letter to Kim Jong Un

    A group called the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea penned a letter to Kim Jong Un in 2019.

    A letter from families and supporters of the abductees addressed to Kim Jong Un

    "Please take the decision to send home all abductees together, at one time, immediately," it read. "Please reflect upon the excruciating pain and heartbreak endured by the parents and other family members who have been waiting for the return of their loved ones for decades."

    The letter also explained that any victims who were returned would not be asked to divulge information about their time in the North, "or do anything that would hinder the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea".

    Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who was in office at the time, outlined an unfilled plan to hold a summit in a bid to resolve the matter.

    Prime Minister Abe Shinzo attended a rally held by the families of the abductees on May 19, 2019

    "I personally believe we must face this head-on without attaching any conditions," he said.

    Abduction issue at a standstill

    North Korea has repeatedly stated that "the abduction issue has been resolved." As a result, for the past 20 years there has been no progress in bringing the victims back to Japan.

    Prime Minister Kishida Fumio met family members of victims at his office on October 18, 2021

    Family members pass away

    Yokota Shigeru was the father of Yokota Megumi, who disappeared in 1977 aged 13. He died in June 2020 at the age of 87, his longing to see his daughter unfulfilled. He was at the forefront of rescue efforts and was the first leader of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea.

    Yokota Shigeru was at the frontline of efforts to rescue abductees

    The year 2020 also saw the passing of Arimoto Kayoko, the 94-year-old mother of victim Arimoto Keiko.

    Arimoto Kayoko at her home in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, on January 12, 2017

    Iizuka Shigeo, the older brother of abductee Taguchi Yaeko, died in December 2021. That year, the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea issued a statement that there was a "time limit" for the aims set out in the group's letter to Kim Jong Un.

    Iizuka Shigeo took over from Yokota Shigeru as the leader of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea

    Just two parents left

    There are only two parents in good health: 86-year-old Yokota Sakie, the mother of Yokota Megumi; and 94-year-old Arimoto Akihiro, the father of Arimoto Keiko.

    Yokota Sakie (left) and Arimoto Akihiro (right) cling to hope
    Family members and supporters of the abductees handing a letter to then Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, on April 7, 2021

    No reunions, no resolution

    Yokota Megumi's younger brother, Takuya, took over as the leader of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea after Iizuka. He says that without reunions for all of the families involved, there can be no resolution – a hard truth that is creating a sense of crisis.

    Yokota Takuya now leads the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea

    "In the case that a reunion does indeed happen, it cannot be considered a true resolution if an abductee's parents have died," he says.