UN pushes for North Korean human rights investigation

North Korean leader Kim Jong'un could be referred to the International Criminal Court. Picture: KCNA
North Korean leader Kim Jong'un could be referred to the International Criminal Court. Picture: KCNA
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A UNITED Nations human rights committee has approved a resolution urging the Security Council to refer North Korea and leader Kim Jong-un to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the country’s human rights record.

The non-binding resolution will now go to the General ­Assembly for a vote in the coming weeks. China and Russia, which hold veto power on the council, voted against it.

The resolution was inspired by a groundbreaking UN commission of inquiry report early this year that declared North Korea’s human rights situation “exceeds all others in duration, intensity and horror”.

The UN committee has adopted similar resolutions on the North’s human rights conditions in the past.

The fact that this year’s resolution includes the suggestion that Mr Kim could be targeted by prosecutors has pushed the communist country to make a furious response. Any action against Mr Kim would pose a setback to North Korea’s recent efforts to improve ties with the outside world to attract foreign investment and aid and revive the country’s troubled economy.

North Korean officials also view the resolution as a potential embarrassment to their young leader who took power after the death of his dictator ­father Kim Jong-il in late 2011.

The secretive nation sent a sharp warning before the vote. Trying to punish it over human rights “is compelling us not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests”, said Choe Myong Nam, a foreign ministry adviser for UN and human rights issues. No further details were given.

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Mr Choe accused the EU and Japan, the resolution’s co-sponsors, of “subservience and sycophancy” to the US, and he promised “unpredictable and serious consequences” if the resolution went forward.

The EU welcomed the support of 111 countries in the vote – 19 countries voted against, and 55 abstained.

“It is admirable that the member states of the United Nations are acting to protect the people of North Korea when their own government fails to do so,” the head of the commission of inquiry, retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, said in an e-mail, adding that he is confident the Security Council will “act ­responsibly”.

Human rights groups turned their attention to China and Russia, which could block any Security Council move.

“No Security Council country, including China, can deny the horror endured by so many North Koreans,” Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said after the vote. “The time has come for justice.”

North Korea and its allies have argued that a resolution that targets a single country would set a dangerous precedent and that other developing countries could be singled out as well. The resolution said the commission of inquiry report found grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed under policies “established at the highest level of the state for decades”.

It calls for targeted sanctions against the people who appear to be most responsible. The committee earlier warned Mr Kim that could include him.

Cuba proposed an amendment that would have stripped out the tough language on the ICC, but the committee’s member countries voted that down. In recent weeks, North Korea had raised the possibility of a UN visit, among other attempts at reaching out to the international community.

“The North Koreans are strongly responding to the UN resolution because they think it’s shaking the young leader who has been trying to consolidate his power since inheriting power only a few years ago,” said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea ­expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University. “They would think their international image has been seriously hit.”

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