• Kyodo

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A United Nations committee has passed a draft resolution introduced by Japan and the European Union that denounces North Korea’s human rights violations.

The draft resolution seeks to refer Pyongyang’s record to the International Criminal Court — although the chances of realizing such move are slim — and to hold the country’s top leaders responsible for alleged crimes against humanity.

One hundred and eleven countries backed the text, while 19 voted against it and 55 abstained from the vote, which was held on Tuesday.

There was a flurry of activity in the run-up to the vote by a team of North Koreans who were pressing diplomats to vote against the resolution.

Choe Myong Nam, deputy director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ International Organization Department, in his remarks said the draft resolution constitutes “a product of political and military confrontation and plot” against his country.

He further warned that the effort to punish his country “is compelling us not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests.”

He criticized Japan and the European Union for “provoking confrontation” in pressing for the resolution, which “fails to reflect the reality on the ground.”

This is the 10th year in a row that the U.N. General Assembly’s Third Committee has passed a resolution regarding Pyongyang’s human rights record, but this year’s document uses the harshest language yet in condemning the rights abuses.

It reflects the U.N. commission of inquiry’s lengthy report in February on what it says is “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have been and are being committed” by North Korea.

“The human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continues to be grave and of serious concern for the international community,” Japan’s Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa said, referring to the country’s official name.

The draft resolution, which was first circulated last month among committee members, prompted Pyongyang to initiate a series of diplomatic moves urging the EU to modify the text.

Cuba, a North Korean ally, proposed an amendment to the draft resolution seeking to delete the critical paragraphs that urge the U.N. Security Council to refer the North Korean situation to the ICC. The Hague-based court seeks justice against individuals involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

A Cuban official said the Japan-EU resolution sets a precedent that would use “political manipulation” to employ the ICC as a tool in condemning developing countries.

Cuba’s amendment, which called for adopting a “new cooperative approach,” was rejected by a majority vote with 77 voting against, 40 in favor and 50 abstaining.

While the passage of the resolution paves the way for the Security Council to refer the matter to the ICC, it is doubtful that China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the council, would back the move as an ally of Pyongyang.

“In the ideal world I would love to see the ICC referral, but I think we recognize that you have to really proceed carefully,” said Param-Preet Singh, senior counsel for Human Rights Watch. However, she said the vote “reflects that there is no more business as usual with respect to North Korea.”

The Japan-EU resolution acknowledges “reasonable grounds” to believe “crimes against humanity” have been committed in North Korea in accordance with “policies established at the highest level of the State for decades.”

Besides the ICC referral, the document also encourages the Security Council to consider effective targeted sanctions “against those who appear to be most responsible for acts that the commission has said may constitute crimes against humanity.”

It also underscores the “very serious concern” about the systematic abduction and enforced disappearances of people from other countries. This includes abductees from Japan who were taken in the 1970s and 1980s.

In addition to the delegates who filled the crowded room, Shin Dong Hyuk, a North Korean defector who is the subject of a documentary, “Escape from Camp 14,” was in attendance. Pyongyang disputes his claims that he was born in a camp for political prisoners.

“The North Korean regime must open their eyes and face reality regarding how much opposition there is in the world toward the human rights situation,” he said in an interview, through a translator.

“This vote for yes for this resolution is a vote for the inmates in the prison camps. This is a vote yes for the human rights situation of the people in North Korea.”

The resolution will be taken up for a vote in a plenary session in the General Assembly next month.

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