EU, Japan press for war crimes probes in North Korea

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - The European Union and Japan are asking the United Nations to press for war crimes prosecutions in North Korea following a report that laid bare Pyongyang's brutality, according to a draft resolution circulating Thursday.

The measure to be presented to the UN General Assembly in the coming weeks would also ask the Security Council to consider targeted sanctions against North Korean leaders "who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity."

The draft resolution, which was obtained by AFP, draws heavily from a UN rights inquiry released in February that revealed a vast network of prison camps and documented cases of torture, enslavement, rape and forced abortions among other violations.

"The commission's findings, the body of testimony gathered and the information received provide reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed" in North Korea, said the text.

It added that these crimes were "pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the state for decades."

The EU and Japan have presented an annual resolution condemning North Korea's rights record at the General Assembly, but the release of the UN report has shored up the drive for tougher UN action against Pyongyang.

The draft calls on the Security Council to take stock of the report's findings and take "appropriate action, including through consideration of referral of the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court."

It also calls for "concrete and positive results" in efforts to account for all Japanese nationals including victims of North Korean abductions during the Cold War.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens to train its spies.

Five of the abductees returned home but Pyongyang said - without producing credible evidence - that the eight others had died.

At a rare briefing at the United Nations this week, North Korea officials declared that there were no prison camps in their country but rather "reform-through-labour" detention centres.