UN General Assembly calls for North Korea to be referred to International Criminal Court

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attends a photo session with the participants of a meeting of Korean People's Army battalion commanders and political instructors in this undated photo released by North Korean news agency KCNA in Pyongyang Nov 5, 201
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attends a photo session with the participants of a meeting of Korean People's Army battalion commanders and political instructors in this undated photo released by North Korean news agency KCNA in Pyongyang Nov 5, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - The UN General Assembly condemned North Korea’s rights record Thursday and called for Pyongyang to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of crimes against humanity.

The non-binding resolution was adopted by a vote of 116 to 20 with 52 abstentions in the 193-nation assembly.

The resolution asks the Security Council to refer North Korea to the ICC and to consider targeted sanctions against the Pyongyang leadership for the repression of its citizens.

Co-sponsored by 62 countries, the resolution drew heavily on the work of a UN inquiry that concluded in a report released in February that North Korea was committing human rights abuses “without parallel in the contemporary world.”

A first vote in a General Assembly committee in November had garnered the support of 111 countries, with 19 against and 55 abstentions.

“This marks an increase of five yes votes... and is a strong call from the international community to improve the human rights situation in the country,” the European Union, which drafted the text with Japan, said in a statement.

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

The Security Council will discuss North Korea at a meeting on Monday, the first to touch on the rights situation in the communist country, but no decision is expected on ICC referral during those talks.

Ten of the 15 council members pushed for North Korea to be put on the agenda, overcoming strong objections from Russia and China which argued that the matter should be before the UN Human Rights Council and not the Security Council.

NORTH KOREA SLAMS RESOLUTION

Addressing the General Assembly, North Korean deputy ambassador An Myong Hun slammed the resolution as “the product of a political plot and confrontation,” based on a “fabricated” report by the commission of inquiry.

“My delegation will not tolerate any attempt to use the human rights issues as a tool for overthrowing its social system,” he said.

The envoy said UN attention should focus instead on “CIA torture crimes committed by the United States in the most brutal and shocking manner”, referring to the recent US report on brutal interrogations of Al-Qaeda suspects.

Cuba, which had led a campaign to scrap provisions on the ICC referral from the resolution, said the vote set a dangerous precedent by seeking to punish countries instead of developing cooperation.

China and Russia voted against the resolution, as did Belarus Cuba, Iran, Syria and Venezuela.

Among those who voted to support the resolution were South Sudan, El Salvador and Grenada, which had abstained in the previous vote.

Three countries that were absent during the first round of voting – Dominica, Guinea-Bissau and Sao Tome – voted yes.

But Tajikistan, which had voted yes in the first round of voting, decided to abstain.

Human rights groups applauded the outcome.

“Today’s vote sends a powerful message that the world is gravely concerned about the horrific human rights situation in North Korea,” said Mr Param-Preet Singh of Human Rights Watch.

“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.”