A United Nations panel of human rights experts issued a letter calling for North Korea to release hundreds of abductees on the anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Photo by KCNA/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, June 26 (UPI) -- On the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, a United Nations human rights panel called for North Korea to repatriate hundreds of abductees taken during and after the war.
"Despite the return of prisoners of war and displaced civilians being enshrined in the Armistice Agreement, the DPRK has consistently refused to repatriate them or even to allow relatives to communicate freely with their loved ones," the group of independent experts said in a letter released on Thursday.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
"[I]n the decades following the end of the conflict, the DPRK abducted hundreds of other individuals, including Korean, Japanese and other nationals," the letter added.
In 2014, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry found that North Korean authorities had committed crimes against humanity by committing abductions and denying repatriation to its international victims.
Human rights groups in South Korea echoed the U.N.'s call for Pyongyang to release its abductees.
"North Korea should remember that the international community will never forget such atrocities and that it would be in the interest of North Korean leaders to resolve this decades-old issue that have broken the families and lives of so many," said Ethan Shin, a legal analyst with the Seoul-based Transitional Justice Working Group.
Shin also called on Seoul to step up its efforts in aiding the recovery of its citizens still being held in North Korea.
"The South Korean government should live up to its primary responsibility to protect its POWs and citizens held captive in North Korea for seven decades," he said.
On Thursday's war anniversary, a group of human rights lawyers filed a lawsuit against North Korea in the Seoul Central District Court over the abductions.
The group, called Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea, is seeking roughly $28 million in damages on behalf of 13 people whose family members were abducted by North Korea during the conflict.
"North Korea kidnapped civilians during the war and has not yet acknowledged its responsibility and has not even given any whereabouts," said the lawyers in a press release. "North Korea and its representative, Kim Jong Un, are jointly liable for damages to abductee victims and their families."
North Korea has a long history of abducting South Korean nationals. The Korean War Abductees Families Union, a victim's advocacy group, estimates that up to 100,000 South Koreans were abducted during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Accounts vary as to how many remain in North Korea, but most estimates are in the hundreds. The U.N. Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances has 316 outstanding cases of enforced disappearances in North Korea registered in its database.
"It is high time that the DPRK start genuine cooperation to clarify the fate and whereabouts of all abductees and disappearances cases," the United Nations letter said.