Seoul lauds move to put the North on UN agenda

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Seoul lauds move to put the North on UN agenda

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday welcomed the United Nations Security Council’s decision to officially include Pyongyang’s human rights record on its agenda.

The UN Security Council took up the issue of North Korea’s bleak human rights situation for the first time on Monday, a groundbreaking step toward possibly holding North Korea’s leaders, including Kim Jong-un, accountable for alleged crimes against humanity.

“This move confirms the concern over the severe influence that North Korea’s serious human rights situation casts on the Northeast Asian region and international peace and security,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il. “And we look forward to in-depth discussion in the Security Council on the advice in the General Assembly’s resolution to investigate [North Korea’s] responsibility and improve North Korea’s human rights.”

The 15-member Security Council agreed to take on the North Korean human rights issue officially with 11 votes for, two votes against and two abstentions following the passing of a key resolution in the UN General Assembly on the issue earlier this month.

Pyongyang quickly denounced the move.

The meeting appeared to be the first time that any country’s human rights situation has been scheduled for ongoing debate by the UN’s most powerful body, meaning that it can now be brought up at any time.

International pressure has built this year on Pyongyang after a UN-backed Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the human rights situation in North Korea in February found grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed under policies “established at the highest level of the State for decades.”

In a letter to Kim, the commission also warned that he could be held accountable. China and Russia, which hold veto power as permanent Security Council members, have protested the General Assembly resolution, which was passed earlier this month.

The council “should refrain from doing anything that might cause the escalation of tensions,” said China’s Ambassador Liu Jieyi.

An angry North Korea refused to recognize the meeting. “We totally reject the attempt” to bring the human rights issue to the council, North Korean diplomat Kim Song told The Associated Press shortly after the meeting began.

The UN-backed inquiry and the UN General Assembly have urged the 15-member council to refer North Korea’s human rights situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Permanent council members the United States, France and Britain said it should be considered, but the council did not take action Monday.

The council has had North Korea’s nuclear program on its agenda for years, but Monday’s meeting opens the door to a wider discussion of abuses alleged in the inquiry, including a harsh political prison camp system of up to 120,000 inmates.

Two-thirds of the Security Council this month formally requested that North Korea’s human rights situation be placed on the agenda for ongoing debate, saying rights violations “threaten to have a destabilizing impact” on the region.

BY SARAH KIM, AP [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]


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