Former High Court Judge and UN human rights inquiry chair Michael Kirby, left, with fellow inquiry member Marzuki Darusman after they were conferred with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star. Source: supplied for THE AGE WORLD 17th May 2017 Photo: SuppliedTokyo: Megumi Yokota was just 13 when she was captured by North Korean agents on her way home from school in Japan’s Niigata prefecture.
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Megumi, remembered by her parents as a perky girl who liked singing, animals and flowers, vanished after practising badminton with friends on November 15, 1977.

“We were overwhelmed with the disappearance,” her mother, Sakie Yokota, told a UN human rights inquiry chaired by former n high court judge Michael Kirby.

“I called out her name – ‘Megumi-chan, Megumi-chan’ – and I looked for her continuously. But I could not even see her shadow ??? we almost went crazy.”

The inquiry, commissioned by the UN’s Human Rights Council, wrapped up in 2014 with damning findings that the North Korean regime was responsible for a litany of crimes against humanity and should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Mr Kirby recently returned to Tokyo, where he conducted some of the hearings, to be decorated by the Japanese emperor for raising awareness of human rights in North Korea, including the plight of Japanese citizens abducted by the regime’s agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

He and a fellow inquiry commissioner, former Indonesian attorney-general Marzuki Darusman, were honoured with the insignia of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star.

Mr Kirby told Fairfax Media “it was an honour” to receive such recognition, but insisted the focus must remain on victims and their families.

“It’s a very sad story of cruelty,” he said. “We have met [families of abductees] on several journeys to Tokyo and we have had dinner with them and they’ve suffered greatly over the years, so I think the honour must be seen as signalling the respect the Japanese government and people have for the families of the abductees and their determination not to give up on the accountability of such wrongs.”

The inquiry concluded that although many abductions and enforced disappearances were linked to the Korean War of the 1950s, hundreds of nationals of Japan, South Korea and other countries were subsequently taken away between the 1960s and 1980s.

Kidnappings on Japanese soil were mostly carried out in the countryside near the coast, while agents also targeted boats in at-sea abductions. The victims were often used to help train North Korean spies in the Japanese language and had their identification documents seized.

In the case of Megumi Yokota, it would take another 20 years for her parents to learn, following publication of a book about North Korean abductions, that the regime might have been involved in her disappearance.

Finally, in 2002, Japan’s then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi travelled to Pyongyang to meet with then North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, who admitted that 13 Japanese citizens, including Megumi, had been taken by special forces in “a reckless quest for glory” and apologised for the “regretful” incidents.

The exact number of abductees is a matter of dispute, along with how many are still alive, but five were allowed to return to their families in Japan in 2002. The regime claimed Megumi had died at the age of 29 and it sent back remains that were purportedly hers. DNA analysis, however, cast doubt on the regime’s account.

“The biggest impact is the shock that they’ve felt and the long-running nature of the saga that they’ve been exposed to,” Mr Kirby said of the abductees’ families.

Megumi’s parents were among 80 witnesses to testify at public hearings, and the three-member panel also based its findings on more than 240 private interviews with victims and other witnesses and 80 formal submissions.

The North Korean regime did not cooperate with the inquiry, whose 370-page report documented cases of “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation”.

There have since been signs of limited cooperation. Early this month, Kim Jong-un’s regime allowed the first visit by an independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council.

Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, said she appreciated being granted the six-day study tour – but added that she had been unable to meet with some key ministries and institutions and had also been blocked from visiting a mental health facility.

Earlier this year a new report prepared by experts for the council renewed the call for an ICC referral, but the UN Security Council – on which North Korea’s key ally China and Russia both have the power of veto – has yet to do so.

Mr Kirby said while “one never knows” about the prospect of an ICC referral, his inquiry also recommended that the UN establish a field office in the region to collect information that could ultimately be used to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights violations.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a meeting of the country’s National Security Council at the Blue House in Seoul this month. Photo: AP

“That was agreed to by the government of South Korea and that field office continues to gather information, sometimes by people who have fled to South Korea, and there is an enormous amount of material that is available because there are 29,000 persons called defectors in South Korea who can give their particular stories of their own suffering.”

Mr Kirby suggested South Korea’s newly-elected president Moon Jae-in, a liberal former human rights lawyer who favours greater engagement with North Korea, would bring a new perspective given he is the son of a refugee from the North.

Mr Moon declared after being sworn into office that he would be prepared to travel to Pyongyang for dialogue if certain conditions were met.

“He will adopt new strategies and policies which may open up new potentialities,” Mr Kirby said. “Business as usual has not got us very far on accountability for human rights and therefore one hopes that out of these developments in the region will come new approaches.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, centre, has consumed world attention with his regime’s recent missile launches. Photo: AP

The Trump administration has vowed to increase pressure on the regime after a series of North Korean missile tests, the most recent on May 14, but US President Donald Trump has also not ruled out meeting Mr Kim. Mr Moon is planning to review the recent deployment in South Korea of a US-installed missile defence system that has angered China. North Korea policy is set to dominate talks when Mr Moon and Mr Trump meet in June.

Asked whether everyone needed to be on the same page, Mr Kirby said: “There’s no reason why there couldn’t be a series of approaches. The approach of the past hasn’t actually fulfilled a great deal in terms of particular outcomes. On the contrary, North Korea has used the last 10 years developing nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems. Something new is needed.”

If there was a revival of six-party talks involving China, the US, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Russia, as recommended by the inquiry, that may open the way to practical progress.

“Certainly, the current situation is unacceptable,” Mr Kirby said. “Doing nothing on human rights in North Korea is not an option compatible with the UN charter and UN human rights law. So out of the present uncertainty must come progress.

“But exactly how it will come remains to be seen and depends on seizing peaceful initiatives, including through dialogue between the most important players.”

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Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham during an event announcing details of the Turnbull Government??????s plan for higher education, at the Realm Hotel in Canberra on Monday 1 May 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Photo: Alex EllinghausenSenior Turnbull government minister Christopher Pyne has accused Catholic schools of mounting a “dishonest” campaign against the Coalition over school funding but predicts it won’t gather much public support.
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The Catholic education system is preparing to run a major nationwide campaign against the government over its so-called “Gonski 2.0” education reforms, warning it will result in higher fees and school closures.

The schools are aiming to mobilise thousands of parents to build a grassroots letter and phone campaign to run alongside social and mainstream media ads to force the government to change course.

But Mr Pyne believes the campaign will fail.

“We aren’t getting any heat in my electorate office about it at all,” the former education minister told Sky News on Sunday. “I have not had one email, one phone call, one letter or one visit from a constituent complaining.”

The new funding arrangements would be fairer for all schools and students across the country, Mr Pyne said. The Catholic schools were simply “pretending that they have been dudded”, he said.

“The Turnbull-Birmingham method of dealing with this has fixed it and has fixed it fairly,” he said.

“The Catholic education system really is running a very dishonest campaign. They’re getting an extra $1 billion out of this agreement (over four years).

“If the Catholic church actually does start putting up school fees and closing schools it’s not because they’re getting less money. And that’s why their campaign isn’t taking off and won’t take off.”

Catholic schools were more concerned about how the system would make school funding more transparent, he said.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham also hit back at Catholic schools, accusing them of scaring parents with “falsehoods”. Catholic schools would receive an extra $3.4 billion over the next 10 years, he said.

But the sector has warned MPs to brace for an influx of complaints.

“Catholic education has a history of running grassroots campaigns and that will be the way this ongoing effort to preserve the 200-year history of Catholic education will proceed,” National Catholic Education Commission acting executive director Danielle Cronin said. “MPs and senators should expect the phone calls and letters from parents and principals to continue to roll in.”

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And they’re off for a Bashing good week | Pictures Sharon Claydon, Nuatali Nelmes and Maddison Elliott at the start line in Bar Beach on Sunday.
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Super Hubert and fans ready for the Bash.

Paralympian Maddison Elliott with Bashers B1 and B2.

Paralympian Maddison Elliott at the starting line in Bar Beach on Sunday.

Paralympian Maddison Elliott at the starting line.

Logan Weir checks out the Lego car ahead of the Bash.

Jayden, Logan and Dylan Weir with the Lego car at Bar Beach ahead of the Bash.

TweetFacebook 2017 Variety NSW Pictures: Variety NSWTHE forecast rain stayed away and Mother Nature turned on the charm as two-time Paralympian Maddison Elliott set the adventurers off from Bar Beach for the 2017 Variety NSW Bash on Sunday.

The 18-year-old swimming sensation from Maitland, with the help of Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes and federal Member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon, waved the flags and the colourful cavalcade of 82 Variety Bash cars took off for the week-long adventure to support Aussie kids in need.

Ms Elliott, who was born with cerebral palsy,became the youngest n to win a Paralympic gold medal. She credited Variety with helping her achieve her dreams.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Variety,” she said.

“I’m excited to be at the start of the Variety Bash and wave off all the amazing Bashers whofundraise all year round to help thousands of other kids like me.”

The Variety Bash will visit Gilgandra, Cowra, Narrandera, Yass, Bathurst and Muswellbrook before finishing back at Bar Beach on Saturday, May27.

Along the way, the Bash crews will donate $51,000 worth of resources and equipment to 12 regional NSW schools. Among the grants this year’s Bash will provide are a smart brailler for children with impaired vision and an all abilities swing for a school playground, makingsure Aussie kids have access to opportunities they may have otherwise missed out on.

Variety NSW regional director Jason Bourke said visiting schools and meeting the kids was a highlight of the “bashers”.

He said Variety hoped to raise more than $800,000 through this year’s event.

“All of the funds raised will provide grants to kids in need,” he said.

“This might be a new wheelchair for a child with a disability, a scholarship tohelp a child facing financial hardship achieve their sporting dream, or even nappies for a family doing it tough”.

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Senator Nick Xenophon at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 10 May 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew MearesA key crossbench senator has made his party’s support for the Turnbull government’s new bank levy conditional on the tax applying to foreign banks.
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And the leader of the Nick Xenophon Team, Senator Nick Xenophon, has also flagged concerns about the government’s decision to keep the proposed laws under wraps until they are introduced into the parliament.

But the push from crossbench powerbroker has been rejected by the government, with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann saying the major bank levy was designed to boost the competitiveness of smaller banks, including foreign ones.

Senator Xenophon told the ABC’s Insiders program he supported the 0.06 per cent levy, which would apply to Westpac, NAB, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ and Macquarie and is designed to raise $6.2 billion, in principle but suggested the levy should be more broadly applied – and the extra money used to compensate victims of bank fraud.

“I do support the broad principles and one of the main reasons is that this will give a chance for those regional banks, those community banks, to get a leg up to be able to compete more fairly,” he said.

“I also think it’s important that the foreign-owned banks that have a big presence here in this country also be hit with this levy, because that could raise about $750-800 million over the forward estimates and that itself could fund a last resort compensation scheme for the many tens of thousands of victims of financial mismanagement and fraud in this country.”

Senator Xenophon controls three votes in the Senate. Labor, at this stage, has indicated provisional support for the new tax but if that position were to change, the NXT voting bloc would be crucial to the measure being implemented from July 1, as planned.

Senator Cormann said the government was making a deliberate decision to boost the position of smaller foreign and regional banks and called on Labor to follow through on its support for the original proposal.

“The levy has been designed on purpose the way it has been. And the Labor Party on the night of the budget came out to confirm they would support the major bank levy that way we’ve put it forward,” Senator Cormann told ABC radio.

“We’re not supporting what Nick Xenophon is putting forward.”

Labor has suggested a Senate inquiry into the tax should look at extending the levy to foreign banks, but it has not yet made extending the tax a condition of its support.

“It depends whether the ALP will come along with that. I think that’s something that I will sit down and talk to the ALP about, but it makes sense. The big banks are saying, ‘Well, if you are going to hit us with this, why aren’t you hitting the foreign banks and I think they have a point,” Senator Xenophon said.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has defended the decision not to release the bank tax legislation until it is introduced into parliament, arguing it is not unusual. However, it is very rare for exposure draft legislation to not be released.

The draft legislation is due to be entered into parliament in the next fortnight.

‘s five largest banks are furious at the new tax, the secrecy attached to the legislation and the very short amount of time they were given to respond to the exposure draft.

– with Fergus Hunter

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All the beautiful photos from Pippa Middleton’s wedding Pippa Middleton and James Matthews smile for the cameras after their wedding at St Mark’s Church in Englefield. Photo: AP
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TweetFacebookSix years after she captured the world’s attention as a royal bridesmaid, Pippa Middleton has married financier James Matthews – brother of Made In Chelsea star Spencer – in a semi-private ceremony.

However, while she stunned the world during her 2011 debut outside Westminster Abbey with her physical attributes, on Saturday royal watchers – who were kept a respectful 200 metres away – were fascinated by Middleton’s toned biceps peeking out from her designer dress.

The sister of the Duchess of Cambridge looked every inch the royal bride. Albeit a royal bride with more impressive guns than the British Army and Madonna combined.

The 33-year-old party planner and regular marathon runner opted for a bicep-framing, cap-sleeved, white lace appliquque, full skirted gown by British designer Giles Deacon.

The colour, train and traditional veil had hallmarks of her sister’s Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen gown. That was about where the similarities ended.

For her wedding to Prince William in 2011, the Duchess of Cambridge wore the royal family’s Cartier Halo Scroll tiara complete with 739 brilliant-cut diamonds and 149 baguette sparklers. On Saturday her younger sister wore a more modest hair clip in her glossy up-do.

Middleton was flanked by her niece Princess Charlotte, nephew Prince George and a gaggle of other young bridesmaids and pageboys.

The Duchess of Cambridge, dressed in a bespoke dusty pink Alexander McQueen dress, was on child minding duties while the young royal’s nanny, Maria Borrallo, was seated inside for the hour-long ceremony.

The Duchess escorted the youngest members of the bridal party into the 12th Century St Mark’s Church in Berkshire, stopping occasionally to tell them to “shh” with her finger pressed to her lips.

George, in beige breeches by Pepa & C, and Charlotte, looking resplendent in a floral garland, were joined by other bridesmaids Countess Philippa Hoyos, Lily French and Avia Horner. Casimir Tatos, Edward Sebire and William Ward were the other pageboys.

The royals have a long history of appearing in wedding parties. Prince William wore a sailor outfit for his duties as pageboy for Prince Andrew’s wedding in 1986, while Harry went dressed as an 18th century pageboy for Sir Earl Spencer’s wedding in 1989.

The Queen was first a bridesmaid, and wore a similar ensemble and headpiece to Charlotte, in 1934 for the Duke of Kent.

Princes William and Harry arrived at the church on Saturday together. Other guests included Roger Federer, his wife Mirka and Princess Eugenie.

Harry’s girlfriend, Suits star Meghan Markle, was noticeably absent.

It is understood she will only attend the private reception which will be held on the Middleton’s estate inside in a glass marquee shipped in from Belgium.

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