GENEVA – The United Nations’ top human rights body agreed on Friday to widen its investigation into violations in North Korea with a view to documenting alleged crimes against humanity for future prosecution.
The body also expressed concern over the lack of progress in settling the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s .
The 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution submitted by Japan and the European Union and backed by the United States.
The resolution calls for North Korea to cooperate and allow access to U.N. investigators, which the reclusive state has never done.
International pressure is building on the country, ruled by Kim Jong Un, over its nuclear tests. Fox News reported on Thursday that North Korea was in the final stages of another test, possibly within days.
The United States has imposed fresh sanctions on foreign companies or individuals for violating export controls on North Korea, as well as Iran and Syria, the State Department said on Friday.
The U.N. human rights office in Seoul would be strengthened for two years with international criminal justice experts to establish a central repository for testimony and evidence “with a view to developing possible strategies to be used in any future accountability process.”
The Seoul office’s current six-strong staff records testimony from interviews with dozens of North Korean defectors each week, a U.N. official said.
“This not only brings North Koreans one step closer to justice for human rights crimes they have suffered, but should also make North Korean government officials think twice before inflicting more abuse,” John Fisher from Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
A U.N. commission of inquiry, in a landmark 2014 report based on interviews and hearings with defectors, catalogued massive violations — including large prison camps, starvation and executions — that it said should be brought to the International Criminal Court.
The resolution faced some opposition. Just prior to the adoption of the motion, a Chinese representative said Beijing does not want human rights to be addressed as a political issue, adding that provocative actions must be avoided as the situation on the Korean Peninsula is complex. A U.N. diplomatic source said Cuba and Venezuela were also opposed.
North Korea said it “categorically and totally” rejected the resolution. The text was “a product of the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) from A to Z,” its envoy said after boycotting the debate.
“The ‘resolution’ is nothing more than a document for interference in internal affairs of sovereign states and represents the culmination of politicization, selectivity and double standards of human rights,” Mun Jong Chol, a counselor at North Korea’s mission to the U.N. in Geneva, told reporters. It was a fraudulent document full of “lies, fabrications and plots.”
China said it “dissociated” itself from the council’s decision and called for dialogue. The situation on the divided Korean Peninsula is “complex and sensitive,” and all sides should avoid provocation that might lead to an escalation, diplomat Jiang Yingfeng said.
The world should “focus on the bigger picture,” he added.
On the issue of Japanese abductees, the resolution expresses “grave concern” at the lack of positive action by North Korea and calls for settling the matter as quickly as possible.
There has been no substantial progress in bilateral talks on the issue, although North Korea agreed with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government in 2014 to reinvestigate the abduction issue.
Pyongyang said in February last year it was suspending the probe in response to tougher sanctions imposed by Japan over North Korean nuclear and missile tests.
The resolution makes no mention of the recent assassination in Malaysia of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Malaysian authorities suspect North Korea orchestrated the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, who is known to have criticized the country’s hereditary succession custom, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13, using the deadly nerve agent VX. North Korea claims Kim died from a heart attack.
A resolution adopted last year called for setting up an experts’ group within the Human Rights Council to hold individuals in the North Korean regime responsible for rights abuses.
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