A U.N. General Assembly committee on Tuesday passed a highly symbolic resolution calling for referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights violations, sparking angry protests from the communist nation.
The Third Committee approved the resolution in a 111-19 vote. Fifty-five countries abstained.
Large screen monitors broadcast Choe Myong Nam, North Korea's official in charge of U.N. affairs and human rights, as he speaks during a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly human rights committee, Tuesday. (AP-Yonhap)
The resolution's overwhelming passage through the committee almost guaranteed its formal adoption at the U.N. General Assembly.
It also represented a victory for the West in an intense diplomatic battle at the U.N. against North Korea and other authoritarian regimes sympathetic to Pyongyang.
Earlier Tuesday, the committee rejected a Cuban proposal to remove the call for the North's referral to the ICC from the resolution.
"The General Assembly decides ... to take appropriate action to ensure accountability, including through consideration of referral of the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court and consideration of the scope for effective targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible," the resolution said.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the North's official name.
The North reacted vehemently to the resolution.
Choe Myong-nam, one of the North's diplomats at its mission to the United Nations, said after the vote that his country rejects the resolution and its passage showed that the North no longer needs to hold dialogue with the international community.
Before the vote, Choe also called the resolution an "outrageous and unreasonable human rights campaign staged by the United States and its followers," and threatened that the move is "compelling us not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests,"
according to news reports.
Referral to the ICC was one of the key recommendations that the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) made in a February report released after a yearlong probe into Pyongyang's human rights record. The report also said the ICC should handle the North's violations as "crimes against humanity."
The resolution was drafted by the European Union and sponsored by 41 countries, including the United States, South Korea and Japan. Should it be adopted at a plenary session, it will mark the 10th resolution that the U.N. General Assembly has adopted on North Korean human rights since 2005.
"The General Assembly condemns the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," the resolution said.
It also expressed its "very serious concern" at a long list of human rights abuses committed by the North, including torture, rape, public executions, extrajudicial and arbitrary detention, and political prison camps.
The resolution urged Pyongyang to "respect fully all human rights and fundamental freedoms" and "immediately put an end to the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights."
As a co-sponsor, the U.S. has expressed support for the resolution.
"As we have said before, we support the Commission of Inquiry's final report and its calls for accountability," Jeff Rathke, a State Department spokesman, said at a regular press briefing a couple of hours before the resolution's passage.
"The commission's findings and recommendations are compelling, and we feel they deserve the full attention of the Security Council and the General Assembly. We've been a co-sponsor of this resolution on DPRK in the Third Committee every year, including this year, so of course we are supportive," he said.
The North has struggled to tone down the resolution, offering to invite the special U.N. human rights investigator to visit the country in exchange for dropping any mention of referring the country to the ICC.
North Korean diplomats in New York have also stepped up public relations activities, including providing a rare briefing on the country's human rights situation for U.N. diplomats, attending a private seminar to make the country's case and speaking more frequently to reporters.
In support of Pyongyang, Cuba put forward a revision that centered on removing the call for the North's referral to the ICC from the original resolution and replacing it with a clause calling for human rights dialogue between North Korea and other nations.
But the Cuban proposal was rejected 40-77.
Despite the resolution's passage, chances of actual referral of the North to the ICC are slim because U.N. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, and the U.N. Security Council is unlikely to approve the resolution because China is sure to exercise its veto power against it.
North Korea has long been labeled as one of the worst human rights violators in the world. The communist regime does not tolerate dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and keeps tight control over outside information.
But Pyongyang has bristled at any talk of its human rights conditions, calling it a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime. The North has also released its own human rights report, claiming the country has the world's most advantageous human rights system and policies. (Yonhap)