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North Korea

UN eyes criminal prosecutions as it widens probe into North Korea human rights abuses

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 3:08pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 10:36pm

The United Nations’ top human rights body has agreed to widen its investigation into widespread violations in North Korea with a view to documenting alleged crimes against humanity for future prosecution.

North Korea said it “categorically and totally” rejected the resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council. The text was “a product of the US hostile policy towards the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) from A to Z,” its envoy said after boycotting the debate.

China said it “dissociated” itself from the council’s decision and called for dialogue.

The 47-member state forum adopted a resolution, brought by Japan and the European Union and backed by the United States, on the final day of its four-week session without a vote. It called for North Korea to cooperate and allow access for UN 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 North Korea was in the final stages of launching another one, 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 UN 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 record testimony from interviews with dozens of North Korean defectors each week, a UN 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.

A UN 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’ is nothing more than a document for interference in internal affairs of sovereign states and represents the culmination of politicisation, selectivity and double standards of human rights,” Mun Jong-chol a counsellor at North Korea’s mission to the UN in Geneva, said.

It was a fraudulent document full of “lies, fabrications and plots”, Mun said.

Chinese diplomat Jiang Yingfeng said the situation on the divided Korean peninsula is “complex and sensitive” and all sides should avoid provocation that might lead to an escalation,

The world should “focus on the bigger picture,” he added.

The renewed pressure on North Korea comes after UN-led report said this week that chronic food shortages and malnutrition are widespread in the hermit nation.

Around 41 per cent - 10.5 million people - were undernourished, it said, citing figures from the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2016 Global Hunger Index, which ranked it 98th out of 118 countries.

Around 18 million North Koreans, or 70 per cent of the population including 1.3 million under-five children, depend on the government-run Public Distribution System for rations of cereal and potatoes.

But most people do not consume a sufficiently diverse diet for healthy development, the report said.

Between July and September last year, the report said, average monthly public rations fell to 300 grams per person per day, far below Pyongyang’s target 573 grams.

The North has periodically been hit by famine, and hundreds of thousands of people died - estimates range into the millions - in the mid-1990s, a period known in the country as the “Arduous March”.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse