The United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday called on world powers to hold officials in North Korea accountable for atrocities committed within the communist nation. In a resolution, the Council recommended submitting a recent major report on North Korean human rights abuses to the Security Council for action. It called for filing charges of human rights crimes with an “international criminal justice mechanism.” Such a move, while unlikely to succeed, would make North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and his top officials vulnerable to arrest if they attempt to travel outside their country.
Thirty member nations of the Human Rights Council voted in favor the resolution, and 11 abstained. China, Russia, Cuba, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Venezuela voted against it.
So Se Pyong, the ambassador from North Korea—also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)—condemned the vote. “In the DPRK, we have a proverb saying ‘Mind your own business,’” he told the Council. “One needs to see his or her face in the mirror to check how nasty it is before talking about the others.”
Paula Schriefer, the representative for the United States, interrupted So three times to demand that he address the human rights allegations instead of criticizing other nations.
The 372-page UN Commission of Inquiry report documents evidence and testimony from hundreds of former North Korean citizens, prison camp inmates, and military officials. It shows that the North Korean government has systematically oppressed politically disfavored classes, including Christians and critics of the Kim Jong Un regime, through prison camps, torture, starvation, forced abortion, and execution.
North Korea denies the existence of prison camps and has condemned the testimony of witnesses. On Friday, after a Reuters reporter asked So if he had actually read the report, he made a gesture suggesting he had thrown it in the garbage.
Human rights advocates praised the Council’s actions today. Christian Solidarity Worldwide, one of the first organizations to call for the UN investigation, said it welcomed the “strong resolution.” Benedict Rogers, the organization’s East Asia representative, noted that, in North Korea, “Christianity is considered a particularly severe threat, with the result that Christians are prohibited from practicing their religion.”
To hold North Korean officials accountable, the Security Council needs to file charges with the International Criminal Court. But with China likely to veto any such move, a human rights trial appears unlikely. Another option would be for world powers to set up an ad hoc tribunal.