With North Korea accused of having used a banned toxin in the murder of Kim Jong-nam, Seoul is poised to highlight the Kim Jong-un regime's unbridled breaches of international law and inhumane activities at the UN this week.
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se on Sunday left for Geneva to attend the UN Human Rights Council and the Conference on Disarmament from Monday to Tuesday.
Through a keynote speech at the HRC session, he will express concerns about the "unprecedentedly grave" rights situation in North Korea and the regime's "inhumane and brutal" acts against its people as shown in the Feb. 13 assassination, ministry officials said.
"North Korea's recent missile launch (on Feb. 12) and the murder of Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia represent a serious violation of international norms on peace and human rights," the top diplomat told reporters shortly before his departure.
"The murder, in particular, has prompted international condemnations as an act against humanity and human rights, given that it involved the use of a chemical weapon barred by international law."
The ministry initially planned to send a vice minister to the gathering as usual. But Yun decided to go following Malaysia's revelation last week that VX, a nerve agent considered a chemical weapon, had been employed in killing Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the officials said.\
Pyongyang, which denies its role in the murder, has not yet introduced its representative to the meeting. Its former Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong had turned up from 2015-2016 to defend international criticism against the North. If the incumbent Minister Ri Yong-ho attends this year's edition, it would mark his debut.
The council is predicted to adopt a fresh resolution on the issue as early as Thursday, but it remains unknown whether this year's draft addresses the assassination issue.
Yun is also expected to bring up the North's use of VX at the disarmament meeting, while calling for the international community's united front to restrain Pyongyang's growing nuclear programme.
The oily liquid is known to be one of the most lethal and fast-acting substances in chemical warfare, far stronger than sarin. It is prohibited under the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.
Malaysian Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said Saturday the chemistry department's findings corroborated the earlier autopsy result that suggested the VX "caused very serious paralysis" and led to death "in a very short period of time."
CCTV footage showed two women rubbed Kim Jong-nam's face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and he was believed to have passed out shortly. He was pronounced dead on his way to a nearby hospital.
Following a two-hour check at the airport early Sunday, Malaysian police said they found no traces of any toxin and declared it a "safe zone."
The authorities assess that several North Koreans including Hyon Kwang-song, a second secretary at its embassy in Malaysia, are implicated in the case, and have arrested one of them. They said Saturday they would issue an arrest warrant for Hyon despite his diplomatic immunity, urging the embassy's co-operation.
The arrested man, Ri Jong-chol, is reportedly suspected to have been engaged in the production or acquisition of the chemical agent.
The two women -- a Vietnamese and Indonesian -- once again claimed they took part in what they thought was a "prank" for a reality show, the two countries' foreign ministries confirmed after respective interviews Saturday.
The Malaysian authorities are awaiting an analysis result over "various chemicals" seized during a Thursday raid on a condo, which is close to Ri's home and believed to have been rented by four North Korean suspects who fled the country. They are also probing whether the substances were produced locally or brought in from abroad, local news reports said Sunday, citing Selangor police Chief Commissioner Datuk Seri Abdul Samah Mat.
In the wake of Kim's assassination, a planned meeting between senior Pyongyang envoy Choe Son-hui and former Washington officials was called off after the US denied a visa for her, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. The two-day talks, which would have been the first contact after US President Donald Trump took office, were scheduled to begin on March 1 in New York.
Meanwhile, calls are rising for a re-designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. The US blacklisted the country in 1988 after its midair bombing of a Korean Air passenger plane which killed all the 115 aboard, but removed it in 2008 as part of nuclear negotiations.
Pyongyang is believed to have 2,500-5,000 tons of chemical weapons, according to the South Korean Defence Ministry's 2016 defence white paper. The regime began its VX production in the 1990s for "assassination purposes" by securing related technology and materials from Central Asian nations, Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun reported Saturday, citing a senior-official-turned-defector.
In Washington, US Defence Department spokesperson Jeff Davis slammed the North's chemical weapons programme Friday, calling it a "real threat."
"Chemical weapons can be attached to anything -- from a mortar shell or artillery shell to a missile," he was quoted by Kyodo News as telling reporters, noting VX is "not particularly difficult to make."
"We recognise that North Korea has a history of producing and maintaining chemical weapons."
A bipartisan bill calling for the North to be put back on the blacklist has already been proposed to the US House Foreign Affairs Committee. However, the possibility remains slim because it requires meticulous proof for a state's terror-related activities.
The murder and re-designation issues are likely to be raised again during a meeting of the chief nuclear negotiators of South Korea, the US and Japan, set for Monday in Washington.
"The re-designation is a step that can be taken by the US, though it is an issue of the international community," Seoul's Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam told the National Assembly on Thursday. "Of course our government will have necessary consultations with the US side in an active manner."