Report: North Korea has abducted more than 180,000 people

North Korea’s abduction of high-profiles individuals like the U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins or the South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang Ok have received plenty of media attention, but they were just the most prominent examples of a decades-long kidnapping campaign by the regimes of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong il.  The campaign began around ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

North Korea's abduction of high-profiles individuals like the U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins or the South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang Ok have received plenty of media attention, but they were just the most prominent examples of a decades-long kidnapping campaign by the regimes of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong il. 

North Korea’s abduction of high-profiles individuals like the U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins or the South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang Ok have received plenty of media attention, but they were just the most prominent examples of a decades-long kidnapping campaign by the regimes of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong il. 

The campaign began around 1946 when Kim Il Sung proclaimed that “In order to solve the shortage of intellectuals, we have to bring intellectuals from South Korea.” (A fairly innocuous statement unless you take it literally.) The kidnappings began in earnest during the Korean War and accelerated following the war when a devastated North Korea needed to replenish its stock of farmers, miners, and factory workers.

A new report from the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea documents the extent on the abduction campaign. Here’s a summary of its findings: 

The number of abductees taken by North Korea may well approach
180,000:

•     During the Korean War, by October 28, 1950, 82,959 South Koreans were
abducted and taken to the North.3

•     Since the Korean War Armistice was signed, an additional 3,824 South
Koreans, 3,721 of them fishermen, have been abducted. 4

•     More than 93,000 ethnic Koreans residing in Japan were lured to North
Korea, and most were never allowed to return to Japan.6

•     The Japanese government officially lists 17 persons whose disappearances
it believes were attributable to North Korean abductions;7

•     Japanese groups that investigate disappearances believe the number of
disappearances attributable to North Korea is actually roughly 100.8

•     News reports estimate that 200 Chinese (most of ethnic Korean background)
were abducted to North Korea.9

•     At least 25 other foreign citizens have been seen in North Korea by the
accounts of numerous witnesses; they can be assumed to have been taken
against their will and are more than likely being held against their will.10

These figures add up to 180,108.

 

The group is also calling for the U.S. to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism over the abductions.

Kim Jong Il finally acknowleged that abductions had taken place during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junchiro Koizumi in 2002, though North Korea has only admitted to abducting 13 people.   

Here’s the full report.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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