U.N. council meets on North Korea human rights despite China opposition

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council discussed on Friday what a senior U.N. official described as “appalling human rights violations” in North Korea, despite a failed attempt by China to stop the third annual meeting on the issue.

A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

China’s U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi said the Security Council was “not a forum for discussing human rights issues and still less for the politicization of the human rights issue.”

“Given the current context, where a plethora of dire challenges are confronting international peace and security, the council should scrupulously honor its responsibility and focus on issues concerning international peace and security with undivided attention,” Liu told the 15-member council.

China, an ally of Pyongyang, called a rare procedural vote to try to stop the meeting. Nine countries voted to hold the meeting - the minimum required - while Angola, China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela were against. Senegal abstained.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told the council that Pyongyang had displayed increasingly aggressive behavior throughout 2016 by conducting a record number of missile launches and two nuclear tests.

“We see the DPRK (North Korea) regime grow its illicit weapons program rather than growing its own children,” said Power, citing World Health Organization data that one in four North Korean children suffers stunted growth from malnutrition.

She warned North Korean officials, saying: “We are methodically documenting your abuses and your impunity will not last forever. When the day comes that you are publicly held accountable, we will be ready.”

Earlier this year, the United States angered North Korea by blacklisting its leader Kim Jong Un for human rights abuses.

A landmark 2014 U.N. report on North Korean human rights concluded that North Korean security chiefs and possibly Kim himself should face justice for overseeing a system of Nazi-style atrocities. Michael Kirby, chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry that drew up the report, said at the time: the crimes the team had cataloged were reminiscent of those committed by Nazis during World War Two. “Some of them are strikingly similar,” he told Reuters.

Andrew Gilmour, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, told the council that there has “been no improvement in the appalling human rights violations” in North Korea.

He also warned that escalated security tensions “will further isolate the country and leave the DPRK population as usual to bear the terrible consequences, at yet further expense of their human rights.”

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

The United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea last month that aim to cut the Asian state’s annual export revenue by more than a quarter in response to Pyongyang’s fifth and largest nuclear test in September.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish