UN rebukes North Korea over rights violations

United Nations, United States (AFP) - A UN General Assembly committee on Thursday condemned "gross" widespread human rights violations in North Korea, in a resolution adopted by a record majority.

The measure now goes to the full General Assembly for a vote next month, but the strong endorsement reflected growing calls for action to address the dire human rights crisis in the communist-ruled country.

The resolution overwhelmingly won backing from 112 countries, compared with 111 last year. Only 19 countries voted against the latest measure and 50 nations abstained.

European and Japanese diplomats who drafted the measure had said they were hoping to garner more votes than last year in the General Assembly, which has condemned Pyongyang's rights record every year since 2005.

This year's text condemns "long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights" in North Korea.

For the second consecutive year, it encourages the Security Council to consider referring Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Such a move however would likely be blocked by Pyongyang's closest ally China, which has veto power in the council.

The resolution demands that a vast network of prison camps in North Korea thought to be holding 100,000 inmates living in appalling conditions be shut down.

North Korean deputy ambassador Choe Myong-Nam dismissed the text as a "product of political confrontation, plot and conspiracy of the United States and other hostile forces."

"The DPRK takes interest in dialogue and cooperation but will continue to strongly counterattack any attempts of confrontation and pressure," he told the assembly.

Speaking on behalf of the EU, Luxembourg's Ambassador Sylvie Lucas said human rights abuses in North Korea were now "firmly anchored in the international agenda" and stressed the need for accountability.

International alarm has grown since the release last year of a UN commission of inquiry report which concluded that North Korea was committing rights violations "without parallel in the contemporary world."

After 10 UN resolutions and the commission of inquiry report, there is little sign, however, of changes on the ground.

In his latest report, UN special rapporteur Marzuki Darusman said there had been no improvement in the dire human rights situation over the past year.

Pyongyang continues to operate prison camps on a large scale and resorts to widespread use of summary executions, torture and arbitrary detentions to impose a "near-total denial of human rights," he said.

"Today's vote signals that the world remains deeply concerned about the devastating human right situation in North Korea," said Param-Preet Singh of Human Rights Watch.

"The UN Security Council should now discuss Pyongyang's widespread abuses as a threat to international peace and security."

The Security Council is expected next month to hold only its second-ever meeting on rights violations in North Korea, although China could move to block such a meeting from going ahead.