UN calls for probe of N. Korea 'crimes against humanity'

Carole Landry
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North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) waves to participants of the third meeting of battalion commanders and political instructors of the Korean People's Army in Pyongyang on November 4, 2014

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) waves to participants of the third meeting of battalion commanders and political instructors of the Korean People's Army in Pyongyang on November 4, 2014 (AFP Photo/)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The United Nations on Tuesday adopted a landmark resolution condemning North Korean rights abuses and laying the groundwork for putting the Pyongyang regime in the dock for crimes against humanity.

A resolution asking the Security Council to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court passed by a resounding vote of 111 to 19 with 55 abstentions in a General Assembly human rights committee.

North Korea reacted angrily to the vote and announced that it was breaking off talks on improving human rights with the European Union, which drafted the resolution with Japan.

The non-binding measure will go to the full General Assembly for a vote next month.

But it remains an open question whether the Security Council will follow up on the resolution and seek to refer North Korea to the ICC, with China -- Pyongyang's main ally -- and Russia widely expected to oppose such a move.

Both China and Russia voted against the resolution on Tuesday along with Cuba, Iran, Syria, Belarus, Venezuela, Uzbekistan and Sudan, who complained that the measure unfairly targeted North Korea.

However, an amendment presented by Cuba to scrap the key provisions on asking the Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the Hague-based ICC, was defeated.

Co-sponsored by more than 60 countries, the resolution drew heavily on the work of a UN inquiry which concluded in a 400-page report released in February that North Korea was committing human rights abuses "without parallel in the contemporary world."

The year-long inquiry heard testimony from North Korean exiles and documented a vast network of harsh prison camps holding up to 120,000 people along with cases of torture, summary executions and rape.

Responsibility for these violations lies at the highest level of the secretive state, according to the inquiry led by Australian judge Michael Kirby, who concluded that the atrocities amounted to crimes against humanity.

- North Korea reacts angrily-

North Korea's representative warned of far-reaching consequences over the vote, and in particular declared that it was now compelled "not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests."

"The sponsors and supporters of the draft resolution should be held responsible for all the consequences as they are the ones who have destroyed the opportunity and conditions for human rights cooperation," said Sin So Ho.

North Korea had launched a diplomatic offensive in recent months to prevent the resolution from moving forward, meeting for the first time with the UN rights rapporteur and extending an invitation for him to visit.

In the final days of intense diplomacy over the text, the European Union introduced a minor amendment welcoming Pyongyang's offer to allow the fact-finding mission and talks with the UN rights office.

In an apparent move to prevent the measure from going any further, North Korea dispatched a senior official, Choe Ryong-Hae, to Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin, whose country holds veto power in the Security Council.

- Rights groups applaud UN -

Human rights groups welcomed the outcome of the vote. Many said it put pressure on the 15-member council to follow up with action on accountability from the North Korean regime.

"Today’s General Assembly resolution affirms the need for a tribunal to address the North Korean government’s unspeakable crimes," said Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth.

"The Security Council should follow up by referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court to investigate the long list of crimes against humanity."

"Finally, the UN has sent the message today that North Korean rulers who starve and enslave their own people must be held accountable," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva–based organization.

"This is a powerful boost to millions of victims suffering in what is arguably the worst situation of human rights abuse on the planet," he said.

UN Watch quoted North Korean defector Ahn Myeong Cheol who said the resolution will have an impact in his country "as the people there will learn that their leader is a criminal."

The resolution makes no mention of North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-Un, but notes the UN inquiry finding that the "highest level of the state" holds responsibility for the rights abuses.