UNITED NATIONS, United States: The UN Security Council on Friday met to discuss North Korea’s “appalling” human rights situation, overriding a bid by China, Russia and three other countries to block the meeting.
It was the third time Beijing has failed to stop the annual discussion at the Security Council since a UN commission of inquiry in 2014 accused Pyongyang of committing atrocities unparalleled in the modern world.
Angola, Egypt and Venezuela joined China and Russia in a vote in favor of scrapping the meeting. But nine countries including Britain, France and the United States supported the move in the 15-member council. Senegal abstained.
Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi argued that the council should focus on threats to global peace and security, saying North Korea’s human rights situation should not be considered as such a menace.
“The Security Council is not a forum for discussing human rights issues and still less for the politicization of the human rights issues,” he said.
This discussion is “detrimental, with no benefit whatsoever,” he added, urging council members to “avoid making any rhetoric or actions that may provoke or lead to escalation of the tensions.”
Pyongyang’s sole ally and trade partner, China has long argued that international efforts should firmly focus on talks to denuclearize North Korea.
US Ambassador Samantha Power shot back that “it stretches credulity, really, to suggest… that the brutal governance practiced by the regime is neutral for international peace and security.”
The UN commission of inquiry found compelling evidence of torture, execution and starvation in North Korea, where between 80,000 and 120,000 people are being held in prison camps.
Over the past year, UN rights officials have interviewed 110 North Korean defectors, many of whom spoke of torture and ill-treatment in detention, UN rights official Andrew Gilmour told the council.
Some North Korean detainees were kept in isolated cells so small they were unable to sit and many were deprived of food, water, he said.
“There has been no improvement in the truly appalling human rights violations in the country,” said Gilmour.
The meeting followed the adoption just a week ago of tougher sanctions against North Korea, including new measures to curb the reclusive state’s coal exports to China, in response to Pyongyang’s fifth and biggest nuclear test.
South Korea’s Ambassador Cho Tae-yul told the council that North Korea had squandered $200 million on two nuclear tests and 24 missile launches—funds that Cho said should have been spent on easing the dire humanitarian situation.
Some 60,000 North Koreans have been sent to work abroad to earn hard currency for the Pyongyang regime in what amounts to forced labor, Cho said.
“The council discussion of Pyongyang’s disastrous human rights record shows that crimes against humanity cannot be ignored, and that those responsible for atrocities in North Korea should face justice,” said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director.
The rights group urged the council to move beyond putting a spotlight on North Korea’s rights violations and begin work on bringing those responsible to justice.
The General Assembly has encouraged the Security Council to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for war crimes investigation, but China is likely to block any such move with its veto power.
North Korea has been hit by six sets of UN sanctions since it first tested a nuclear device in 2006.