PYONGYANG, North Korea, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- Pyongyang has not yet replied to an invitation to participate in hearings on alleged human rights violations committed in North Korea, officials said.
A United Nations panel set up to investigate human rights violations in North Korea is set to travel to Japan next week to meet with North Korean defectors and those with information on the alleged abductions of Japanese nationals in the mid-1970s and early 1980s by suspected North Korean agents, the United Nations said in a release Friday.
"Although the number of abductions is subject to debate, there are at least 17 acknowledged cases. The likelihood is many more," the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said.
Michael Kirby, the chairman of the three-member Commission of Inquiry, said North Korea has not yet said whether it would participate in the hearings in Japan.
"Lacking direct access to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, we are still able to gather numerous first-hand accounts from people who have managed to leave the country in recent years," Kirby said. "We hope their brave decision to testify will raise the international profile of the human rights situation in North Korea -- not just with a general global audience, but also among the member states of the United Nations."
The commission looking into the alleged abductions is currently in Seoul conducting hearings on potential human rights violations ranging from political prison camps and torture, to religious persecution, discrimination and the right to food in North Korea.
The hearings in Japan are scheduled for Aug. 29-30 at the United Nations University in Tokyo.