UN condemns North Korea for firing missiles as people starve

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides nuclear weapons guidance in a photo released September 2017.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides nuclear weapons guidance in a photo released September 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - UN member states on Tuesday (Nov 14) condemned North Korea for gross human rights violations and for conducting missile and nuclear tests while its people suffer from severe hunger.

The UN General Assembly's human rights committee adopted by consensus a resolution drafted by the European Union and Japan that expressed international concern over Pyongyang's rights record.

The measure will now go to the General Assembly for debate next month.

North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test this year and test-fired a series of advanced missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, even as 18 million North Koreans, or 70 per cent of the population, are struggling with food shortages.

The resolution co-sponsored by 61 countries condemns North Korea for "diverting its resources into pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles over the welfare of its people."

The measure condemned "the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights" in North Korea, and said those violations have led to severe hunger and malnutrition.

Nearly a quarter of North Korea's population suffers chronic malnutrition, the resolution said.

It expressed "very serious concerns" that Pyongyang has carried out torture, summary executions, arbitrary detention and abductions of foreign nationals within and outside its territory.

The resolution also stressed that North Korea must provide detained foreign nationals with access to consular services and allow them to communicate with their families.

US student Otto Warmbier, 22, died in June just days after he was released by Pyongyang and sent home in a coma following his arrest in January 2016 while visiting the North as a tourist.

His parents have said their son showed signs of torture, including teeth that appeared to have been "rearranged," and hands and feet that were disfigured.

Presenting the resolution on behalf of the European Union, Estonian Deputy Ambassador Minna-Liina Lind said rights violations in North Korea "are too often overlooked due to the headline-grabbing missile and nuclear issue."

North Korea's Ambassador Ja Song Nam said his government "categorically rejects" the resolution, dismissing it as a political ploy to undermine the Pyongyang leadership.

The ambassador took a swipe at the United States for presenting two sanctions resolutions that were recently adopted by the Security Council, condemning the "barbarian" measures as a "despicable violation of human rights and a genocide crime."

The resolution also expressed concern that reunions of separated families on the Korean peninsula have been suspended since October 2015.