UN confronts North Korea over crimes against humanity

UN confronts North Korea over crimes against humanity
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (2nd L) addresses the B20 meeting before the G20 leaders summit in Brisbane, November 14, 2014.

UNITED NATIONS, United States - The United Nations is preparing to confront North Korea over its dismal rights record with a key vote this week that could compel Pyongyang to answer to crimes against humanity.

A UN General Assembly committee will vote Tuesday on a resolution drafted by the European Union and Japan condemning human rights abuses in North Korea and calling for a war crimes probe.

While North Korea often features on the roster of resolutions targeting pariah states, the latest text has been the focus of intense diplomacy over provisions that could see the Pyongyang regime in the dock at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The resolution draws heavily from a UN report released in February that detailed a vast network of prison camps and provided accounts of torture, summary executions and rape, mostly from testimony from North Korean exiles.

Responsibility for these crimes lies at the highest level of the state, according to the report by the UN inquiry, which concluded that the atrocities amounted to crimes against humanity.

The landmark report stirred alarm in Pyongyang, which launched a diplomatic offensive to ensure the key provisions urging the Security Council to refer Pyongyang to the Hague-based ICC were scrapped.

Defended by Cuba

Rushing to North Korea's defence, Cuba last week presented an amendment - that will also be put to a vote - dropping all references to the ICC and instead encouraging cooperation 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.

To counter the Cuban move, a new text was presented on Friday by the EU that included a provision welcoming cooperation on rights with North Korea, but maintaining the call for a probe of crimes against humanity.

Supporters of the EU-Japan text, co-sponsored by 48 countries including the United States, are hoping for a strong vote of support to push the Security Council into taking action against Pyongyang.

"This resolution is about victims and the importance of the world standing with victims," said Param-Preet Singh from Human Rights Watch.

"We are talking about not just hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands but potentially millions of victims over the last sixty years and that is why accountability is so important.

"It sends a message that any regime that inflicts that kind of suffering on its own people: there will be a price to pay."

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