UN calls for probe of North Korea 'crimes against humanity'

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United Nations on Tuesday adopted a landmark resolution condemning North Korean rights abuses and laying the groundwork for putting the Pyongyang regime in the dock for crimes against humanity.

A resolution asking the Security Council to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court passed by a resounding vote of 111 to 19 with 55 abstentions in a General Assembly human rights committee.

North Korea's Ambassador Sin So Ho reacted angrily to the vote and announced that "there was no further need for human rights dialogue" with the European Union, which drafted the resolution with Japan.

The envoy warned of far-reaching consequences, and in particular declared that there was no reason for Pyongyang "not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests".

"The sponsors and supporters of the draft resolution should be held responsible for all the consequences as they are the ones who have destroyed the opportunity and conditions for human rights cooperation," he said.

The non-binding measure ran into strong opposition from Cuba, Iran, Syria and Belarus which complained that it unfairly targeted a country and was tantamount to interference in a country's internal affairs.

But an amendment presented by Cuba to scrap the key provisions on asking the Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the Hague-based ICC was defeated.

Cuban Ambassador Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez said UN resolutions targeting a single country had become a "tool to attack others" and argued that the draft should be amended to call for a "cooperative approach" with Pyongyang.

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari warned that the measure "threatens the very foundations of relations between states and it destroys the universal understanding with regard to efforts to address human rights issues".

Co-sponsored by more than 60 countries, the resolution drew heavily on the work of a UN 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 violations 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 resolution will now 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. Both voted no on Tuesday.

Human rights groups welcomed the non-binding resolution and said it put pressure on the Security Council to follow up with action on accountability from the North Korean regime.

"Today's General Assembly resolution affirms the need for a tribunal to address the North Korean government's unspeakable crimes," said Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth. "The Security Council should follow up by referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court to investigate the long list of crimes against humanity."