November 10, 2014 / 11:22 PM / 5 years ago

North Korea halts U.N. charm offensive over human rights record

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A rare diplomatic charm offensive by North Korea appears to be over after it failed to halt a European and Japanese push for the United Nations General Assembly to support referring the hermit state to the International Criminal Court over allegations of human rights abuses.

In a statement given to U.N. states and obtained by Reuters on Monday, Pyongyang said it had suspended talks on a draft resolution that urges the Security Council to consider sending North Korea to The Hague-based court over accusations of crimes against humanity. The draft also encourages the 15-member council to mull targeted sanctions for human rights abusers.

A U.N. inquiry concluded in a Feb. 17 report that North Korean security chiefs and possibly even Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un himself should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings.

“Although we are not opposed to the dialogue and cooperation for promotion and protection of genuine human rights, we will strongly respond to any attempt to continuously abuse the human rights issues in sabotaging our system, to the last ditch,” North Korea’s U.N. mission said in its statement, dated Oct. 30.

As of Oct. 31 it suspended “overall consultations” on the draft resolution, which currently has some 50 co-sponsors, and warned that those supporting the move “will have to take full responsibilities for all the consequences to be incurred.”

The resolution drafted by the European Union and Japan is likely to be adopted by the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which deals with human rights, as early as next week. It is then formally approved by the U.N. General Assembly in December.

In an unusual move, normally shy North Korean diplomats had attempted to sway their U.N. counterparts with their own lengthy human rights report and a proposal for language in the resolution that would praise Pyongyang’s record.

North Korean diplomats also met with U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, for the first time and signaled that they could allow him to visit Pyongyang if language about the International Criminal Court (ICC) was removed from the draft resolution.

They also told U.N. member states they would consider receiving “technical assistance” from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and a human rights dialogue with the European Union, according to the statement to U.N. states.

“We’re not prepared to make those sorts of deals, there was a clear recommendation of the Commission of Inquiry of the reference to the ICC, it’s clearly justified by the facts,” said senior U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

Diplomats say China is likely to veto any Security Council bid to refer the situation in North Korea to the ICC.

Unlike the Security Council, which can issue legally-binding resolutions and enforce compliance by imposing economic sanctions or authorizing military force, the General Assembly’s resolutions are non-binding. But such resolutions can increase political pressure on the countries targeted by them.

“In the long run, the EU and Japan have at last chosen the path of confrontation, in pursuance of the hostile policy of the United States against the DPRK (North Korea) in its attempt to smear the image of the dignified DPRK and overthrow its ideology and social system under the pretext of the fictitious ‘human rights issues’,” the North Korean statement said.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Grant McCool

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