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North Korea shuns U.N. rights review as calls grow for justice

GENEVA (Reuters) - North Korea boycotted a U.N. review of its human rights record on Monday, shunning calls for the Pyongyang leadership to be held to account for crimes against humanity documented by the world body.

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U.N. investigators are building on a 2014 U.N. report that detailed the use of political prison camps, starvation and executions, saying security chiefs and possibly even Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un himself should face international justice.

The U.N. Human Rights Council held a session on abuses in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) amid rising tensions on the divided peninsula following its latest missile tests last week and two nuclear tests last year.

North Korea refused to attend to attend the review. Pyongyang’s deputy ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva told Reuters that the session was “politically-motivated”.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, said that he regretted the decision but was still seeking dialogue.

“There is a need to continue pushing for accountability in respect to crimes against humanity in the DPRK,” Ojea Quintana told a news conference. “Our position is a matter of principle, when there are crimes against humanity there is a need to punish those who are responsible for those crimes.”

Rising political and military tensions should not shield ongoing violations from international scrutiny, he said.

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He called for an independent investigation into the killing of Kim Jong Nam, estranged half-brother of Kim Jong-un, in Malaysia last month, saying there may be a need to “protect other persons from targeted killings”.

Between 80,000 and 120,000 people are held in four known political prison camps in North Korea, Ojea Quintana said.

The rapporteur also said that thousands of North Koreans wanted to work abroad had to pay bribes to officials and were then placed under a “heavy system of surveillance”. They were also forced to hand over a large portion of their salary from overseas to the government, he said.

“We remain deeply concerned by ongoing widespread and gross human rights violations and abuses in the DPRK, including summary executions, enslavement, torture, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances,” said William Mozdzierz,

head of the U.S. delegation.

Sara Hossain, a member of the Council’s group of independent experts on accountability, said that despite “political obstacles”, they backed the call for the Security Council to refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Major powers including North Korea’s ally China wield a veto in the forum.

The U.N. could also consider creating an international tribunal to prosecute the abuses, she said.

“The groundwork for future criminal trials should be laid now,” Hossain said.

Editing by Julia Glover and Richard Lough