NEW YORK – The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday formally endorsed a resolution by a majority vote condemning North Korea’s human rights record and urging for the second consecutive year that the Security Council consider referring the issue to the International Criminal Court.
It marked the 11th year in a row that the U.N. General Assembly has passed a similar resolution on Pyongyang’s human rights issue. This year’s draft received 119 votes in favor, while 19 countries — including China, Russia and Iran — voted against it and 48 abstained.
The document, authored by Japan and the European Union, references a U.N. commission of inquiry established in 2013 whose findings “provide reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed” according to “policies established at the highest level of the State for decades.”
North Korea was upset by this accusation when it was first added to the draft resolution last year, with officials apparently concerned that the country’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un could be held responsible.
In remarks to the plenary session just ahead of the vote, Ri Song Chol, a counselor at the North Korean mission, strongly rejected the resolution as politically motivated and claimed it is “based upon all sorts of distortions and fabrications including sheer lies.”
The resolution, co-sponsored by more than 50 countries including the United States and South Korea, urges Pyongyang to release its political prisoners, put an end to torture and repression, address malnutrition and cooperate with international observers, among other steps.
It also pushes North Korea to ensure the immediate return of foreign national abductees, an issue closely followed by Japan because of a number of nationals abducted by agents of Pyongyang decades ago.
In addition to recommending ICC involvement, the document suggests “targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for acts that the commission has said may constitute crimes against humanity.”
Param-Preet Singh, Senior Counsel with the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch, said, “Today’s vote signals to Pyongyang that the world remains deeply concerned about the horrific abuses in North Korea. The victims deserve to see the architects of their suffering brought to justice.”
A referral of the country’s human rights issue to the ICC is deemed unlikely, however, since it would require approval from the 15-member Security Council, including veto-wielding China and Russia, both of which voted against the resolution.
Japan hopes to press the Security Council to address North Korean issues during its next two-year stint as a nonpermanent member of the Security Council, which begins on Jan. 1.