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UN General Assembly points finger at N. Korea

December 18, 2014

United Nations member states have urged the Security Council to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Resolutions were also adopted criticizing Iraq and Syria.

Nordkorea Gefängnis
Image: AP

Members of the UN's General Assembly on Thursday urged the Security Council to refer Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of crimes against humanity.

The 193-member assembly adopted a non-binding resolution by 116 votes to 20, with 52 abstentions.

The document, co-sponsored by 62 countries, drew heavily on the work of a UN inquiry that concluded in a February report that North Korea was committing atrocities "without parallel in the contemporary world."

Permanent Security Council members China and Russia voted against the resolution, as well as Belarus, Cuba, Iran, Syria and Venezuela. Among those who adopted it after voting against in a previous round were El Salvador, Grenada and South Sudan.

'Powerful message of grave concern'

There was praise for the vote from human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"Today's vote sends a powerful message that the world is gravely concerned about the horrific human rights situation in North Korea," said HRW Senior Counsel Param-Preet Singh.

"That these abuses are linked to policies at the highest level of the state highlights the North Korean government's desperation to maintain the status quo and makes today's vote all the more significant."

During the General Assembly meeting, North Korea's deputy ambassador An Myong Hun labeled the resolution claiming that it was "the product of a political plot and confrontation." Hun added that the resolution was based on a "fabricated" report and that the UN should instead focus on "CIA torture crimes committed by the United States."

The North Korea report was based on a year-long inquiry which heard testimony from North Korean exiles. It included details of a large network of prison camps holding up to 120,000 people, documenting cases of rape, summary executions and torture.

A UN special committee on human rights agreed last month that North Korea should be referred to the ICC.

China may prove stumbling block

Diplomats have said that any move by the Security Council to the ICC would likely be blocked by Beijing. North Korea's rights situation is to be discussed at a meeting on Monday, although no decision on the ICC referral is thought likely at that meeting.

The resolutions that criticize Iran and Syria do not threaten referral to the ICC but are more of an expression concerns over regular reports by UN special rapporteurs.

Both countries protested their respective resolutions Thursday, with Tehran's representative calling the effort "political, prejudicial and unbalanced."

rc/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)