UN to hold key vote on North Korea war crimes probe

UN to hold key vote on North Korea war crimes probe
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (R)

UNITED NATIONS, United States - The United Nations will Tuesday confront North Korea over its dismal rights record with a key resolution that could compel Pyongyang to answer to crimes against humanity.

The General Assembly will vote in its third committee on the measure drafted by the European Union and Japan that strongly condemns human rights abuses in North Korea and calls for a war crimes probe.

The resolution, which is expected to be approved, draws heavily on the work of a UN commission of 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 crimes 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.

The landmark report infuriated North Korea, which launched a diplomatic offensive to ensure the key provisions urging the Security Council to refer Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court were scrapped.

Fellow communist Cuba has presented an amendment binning references to the ICC and instead encouraging cooperation with Pyongyang through fact-finding visits and talks with the UN rights office.

Diplomats said the Cuba amendment could garner support in particular from African countries that have bristled at the ICC's focus on African war crimes cases.

Still, the resolution was expected to be approved by a strong vote of between 100 and 120. All 193 countries of the United Nations are represented on the third committee, which deals with human rights issues.

Rights groups urge backing

On the eve of the vote, three leading human rights groups -- Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights -- called on member states to back the resolution.

"The UN General Assembly has an important opportunity to show its support for the countless North Koreans whose suffering has finally been brought to light," said Nicole Bjerler from Amnesty International.

The resolution, co-sponsored by more than 50 countries, will go to the full Assembly for a vote next month.

But it remains an open question whether the Security Council would 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.

Pyongyang has dismissed the resolution as confrontational and the product of a plot orchestrated by the United States to discredit the regime of young leader Kim Jong-Un and help bring about its downfall.

But last month, North Korean officials held their first meeting in 10 years with the UN special rapporteur and extended an invitation for him to visit Pyongyang, while offering to cooperate with the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights.

However, North Korea also has a long history of reneging on pledges.

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