A senior UN rights official has said that the country has not progressed on human rights since a damning report in 2014. The envoy was in Japan meeting with the families of citizens admittedly abducted by Pyongyang.
North Korea's leaders, including Kim Jong-un, should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity due to sustained human rights violations, said the UN's envoy for human rights in North Korea on Friday.
"In addition to continuing political pressure to exhort the DPRK to improve human rights, it is also now imperative to pursue criminal responsibility of the DPRK leadership," said UN envoy Marzuki Darusman, referring to North Korea by an acronym of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
However, the envoy did not specify who among the country's top officials should be held accountable, stating: "I'd refrain from mentioning any name as we need to build up the basis for proper prosecution."
The 2014 report - co-authored by Darusman - prompted the UN General Assembly to take up the issue of human rights violations to the Security Council, which is the only body that may consider referring the country to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.
Darusman gave his statement towards the end of a five-day visit to Japan after being repeatedly refused entry into North Korea.
During his visit, he met with senior officials and family members of Japanese citizens that were kidnapped by Pyongyang.
'A continuous crime'
In 2002, North Korea admitted to abducting 13 Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 1980s in order for them to train spies in the Japanese language and customs.
"Abduction, as a form of enforced disappearance, is a continuous crime, which does not end until the victim's family learns the whereabouts of their loved one and, where possible, the survivors are immediately returned to their families," said Darusman.
Only five of those kidnapped returned to Japan. Pyongyang maintains that the eight others died in captivity.
In 2014, Japan and North Korea struck a deal that Pyongyang would investigate the abductions, which Tokyo says amounts to more than 850 possible cases. However, Japanese authorities have criticized the communist nation for the lack of progress in the investigation.
Darusman's statement comes as North Korea announced it detained a US student for committing a "hostile act." Earlier this year, Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test, raising tensions among the international community.
ls/kms (Reuters, AP, AFP)