China has dismissed a UN report alleging North Korea has committed crimes against humanity, effectively confirming the fears of human rights advocates that Beijing will shield its ally Pyongyang from international prosecution.
The report, published last month, accused the reclusive country of killings and torture comparable to Nazi-era atrocities and said officials, possibly even supreme leader Kim Jong-un himself, should face the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Chen Chuandong, a counsellor at China's mission in Geneva, told the UN Human Rights Council yesterday that the independent commission of inquiry had made unfounded accusations and made recommendations that were "divorced from reality".
"The inability of the commission to get support and co-operation from the country concerned makes it impossible for the commission to carry out its mandate in an impartial, objective and effective manner," Chen said.
China, as a member of the UN Security Council, has the power to veto any move to refer North Korea to the ICC. Diplomats had already warned China was likely to object to the report, which also criticised Beijing for its treatment of North Korean defectors.
The report's chief author, retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, had opened the debate by challenging the United Nations to act to stop crimes against humanity that ranked among the worst in modern history.
"Contending with the scourges of Nazism, apartheid, the Khmer Rouge and other affronts required courage by great nations and ordinary human beings alike," Kirby said. "It is now your solemn duty to address the scourge of human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."
Kirby said the team's findings, based on testimony from hundreds of victims, defectors and witnesses, were unequivocal, and demanded closure of political prison camps believed to hold up to 120,000 people.
But Chen said the report was based on information and interviews collected outside the country. "The question then arises [if] such an inquiry [can] be truly credible?" he asked.
North Korean Ambassador So Se-pyong reiterated Pyongyang's rejection of the report, rubbishing it as a ridiculous provocation and a fabrication instigated by the United States and other "hostile forces", who he said should be investigated for their own human rights records.
And then there was drama when Japan took the floor to make a statement. So interrupted a statement by Shigeo Iizuka, the head of the Japanese Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, to challenge his right to address the council.
Pyongyang admitted in 2002 that it had abducted about a dozen Japanese nationals over two decades and said eight had died. Tokyo has rejected the North's claims that some of them had committed suicide.
Just seconds into Iizuka's speech, So demanded: "I need the clarification if he is a representative of the government of Japan or not." When council president Baudelaire Ndong Ella informed So that Iizuka had been duly accredited to speak, he stood up and walked out.
Additional reporting byAgence France-Presse