The world has lost a champion of compassion and perseverance.
Shigeru Yogota died on June 5 at the age of 87. Along with his wife Sakie, Shigeru worked tirelessly for decades for the return of their daughter Megumi, whom North Korean agents abducted in 1977, when she was 13, and took to North Korea. The couple founded and headed a group dedicated to bringing back Megumi and other Japanese people abducted by the North Korean government during the 1970s and 1980s. These abductees were allegedly forced to help train spies by teaching them Japanese language, accent, and culture, or enabling them to falsify Japanese identification documents.
Shigeru attended more than 1,400 meetings to raise awareness across the country about North Korean abductions. His persistence had a deep impact on Japanese society, raising what was once an obscure issue in Japan to one known from small villages to the highest echelons of power in Tokyo. A wave of films, manga, theatre, and literature about Megumi are all directly due to Shigeru and Sakie’s efforts. Today, the abductions are one of the top diplomatic issues between Japan and North Korea, and addressing them became a top priority for the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Shigeru and Sakie never gave up, even after North Korea admitted abducting their daughter in 2002 and claimed that she had died.
The couple had a key role in getting Prime Minister Abe to support the establishment of a special United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea, which found the North Korean government had committed numerous and systematic human rights violations including crimes against humanity. The couple were also supporters of the establishment of a field office in Seoul of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which documents ongoing human rights violations, collects evidence, and works on potential prosecutorial strategies.
Many in Japan mourn Shigeru because of his extraordinary character. Leaders in Japan and other governments around the world should remember Shigeru and use the example of his persistence to strengthen their commitments to address North Korea’s atrocious human rights record.