Monday, December 22, 2014

UN Security Council Takes Up N. Korea's Human Rights

President Barack Obama chairs a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at United Nations headquarters. An angry North Korea, now on the defensive over a U.S. accusation of hacking, is refusing to take part in a groundbreaking U.N. Security Council meeting Monday, Dec. 22, 2014, where the country’s bleak human rights situation will be discussed for the first time.



UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council placed North Korea's bleak human rights situation on its agenda Monday, a groundbreaking step toward possibly holding the nuclear-armed but desperately poor country and leader Kim Jong Un accountable for alleged crimes against humanity.
This appears to be the first time that any country's human rights situation has been scheduled for ongoing debate by the U.N.'s most powerful body. China and Russia protested the move, the boldest effort yet to confront Pyongyang over the issue.
An angry North Korea, now on the defensive against a U.S. accusation of hacking, has said it would refuse to recognize Monday's meeting. A U.N.-backed inquiry and the U.N. General Assembly have urged the 15-member council to refer North Korea's human rights situation to the International Criminal Court. The council was unlikely to take action Monday.
International pressure has built this year on Pyongyang after a U.N.-backed inquiry found grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed under policies "established at the highest level of the State for decades." In a letter to Kim, the commission also warned that he could be held accountable."
North Korea accuses the United States and its allies of using the human rights issue as a weapon to overthrow its leadership. It also calls the dozens of people who fled the North and aided the commission of inquiry "human scum."
If the council takes any action, "maybe we will take necessary measures," North Korean diplomat Kim Song told The Associated Press on Friday. He did not give details. North Korea already sent a sharp warning last month, threatening further nuclear tests after the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee voted to move the issue to the Security Council, which can take binding actions on matters of international peace and security.
The council has had North Korea's nuclear program on its agenda for years, but Monday's meeting opens the door to wider discussion of abuses alleged in the recent inquiry, including starvation and a harsh political prison camp system of up to 120,000 inmates. Pyongyang rejects the inquiry's findings but never allowed it into the country.
Two-thirds of the Security Council this month formally requested that North Korea's human rights situation be placed on the agenda for ongoing debate, saying rights violations "threaten to have a destabilizing impact" on the region.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters Monday that he was closely following the Security Council's actions. "Human rights should be given the highest priority" in any country," said Ban, who is South Korean.
China, which has veto power as a permanent council member, could block any eventual action against its traditional but troublesome ally. But the mere threat of any damage to Kim Jong Un's image has outraged the North Korean government.
Such fury is thought to be behind the recent hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. North Korea has denied the attack but has suggested it was a "righteous deed" carried out by sympathizers. Sony last week cancelled the Christmas Day release of "The Interview," setting off alarm among some diplomats and entertainment figures who warned of setting a precedent for backing down in the face of future threats. The hacking was expected to be discussed in Monday's meeting.
North Korea experienced sweeping and progressively worse Internet outages extending into Monday, with one computer expert saying the country's online access is "totally down." The White House and the State Department declined to say whether the U.S. government was responsible.
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