By Mirjam Donath
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly committee dealing with human rights on Tuesday called for the U.N. Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity.
The vote followed a U.N. Commission of Inquiry report published in February detailing wide-ranging abuses in North Korea, including prison camps, systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.
The resolution passed by the U.N. Third Committee linked the alleged abuses to the policies of North Korea's leadership and called on the Security Council to consider targeted sanctions against those responsible.
The vote increases political pressure on North Korea but it is largely symbolic. It is unlikely to lead to action in the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which looks at serious abuses like genocide and other crimes against humanity.
Diplomats said North Korea ally China would probably use its Security Council veto power to stop any ICC referral. They said Beijing's stance would likely be supported by Russia.
China and Russia backed an amendment to the resolution by Cuba, which was voted down, to remove the call to refer North Korea to the ICC and an acknowledgement of the commission's view that there were reasonable grounds to believe it had committed crimes against humanity.
WARNING OF NUCLEAR TESTS
China said the Security Council was not the appropriate forum for human-rights discussions.
North Korea's representative to the Third Committee angrily condemned the vote, blaming the United States and its allies. He warned of the possibility of further nuclear tests, which have drawn U.N. sanctions in the past.
"The outrageous and unreasonable human rights campaign staged by the United States and its followers in their attempts to eliminate the state and social system of (North Korea) is compelling us not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests," Choe Myong Nam said.
General Assembly resolutions condemning human rights abuses in Iran, North Korea, Myanmar and Syria have become an annual occurrence, but this was the first time a North Korea resolution included a recommendation for an ICC referral.
The resolution pointed the finger squarely at North Korea's top leadership by acknowledging the commission's finding that there were "reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed ... pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State for decades."
The resolution will go to the full General Assembly for formal approval in December.
(Reporting by Mirjam Donath and David Brunnstrom; Editing by David Storey and Jonathan Oatis)