GENEVA: “Mind your own business,” North Korea’s ambassador told the U.N. Human Rights Council Friday, moments before it voted to demand justice for alleged Nazi-style atrocities in his country.
U.N. human rights investigators said last month that security chiefs and possibly Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un himself should be tried for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings, saying the crimes were “strikingly similar” to those committed during World War II.
The Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution, brought by Japan and the European Union and backed by the United States and South Korea, calling for the U.N. Security Council to seek accountability for the alleged crimes.
Thirty states voted in favor, while six – including China and Russia – were against, with 11 abstaining. North Korea, officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), has observer status with no vote.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Paula Schriefer interrupted North Korean Ambassador So Se Pyong three times, demanding he answer the allegations rather than criticizing other countries’ records.
“In the DPRK, we have a proverb saying ‘Mind your own business,’” So said, prompting a loud laugh in the hall, “which means that one needs to see his or her face in the mirror to check how nasty it is before talking about the others.”
“No person on earth would be so stupid as to keep the door open to a gangster who is attacking with a sword. ... Cooperation can never be compatible with confrontation,” the ambassador added.
The resolution recommends “that the report of the COI [commission of inquiry] be submitted through the General Assembly to the Security Council for its consideration and appropriate action, including through consideration of referral of the human rights situation to the appropriate international criminal justice mechanism.”
Asked by Reuters if he had read the COI report, Ambassador So said it was “passed away” in February, gesticulating in a way that suggested the 372-page document had been flung the bin.
EU Ambassador Mariangela Zappia said the “overwhelming” amount of evidence in the report meant the Council could not remain silent and had to confront North Korea.
“I hate to use the word ‘I’m happy’ but I think we are very satisfied with the resolution that was adopted, with strong support,” she told reporters after the vote.
Activists who have lobbied for scrutiny of North Korea to be widened beyond its disputed nuclear program welcomed the vote.
“Human rights must take center-stage at the U.N. Security Council when it considers peace and security in the Korean Peninsula,” Roseann Rife, of Amnesty International, said.
Meanwhile, Julie de Rivero, of Human Rights Watch, said: “The Human Rights Council’s response to the commission of inquiry findings is a total game-changer for the U.N.’s relations with North Korea.”
“Now the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly need to determine how to bring North Korea’s leaders to justice for their human rights crimes,” de Rivero said in a statement.
However, Western and Asian powers concede that their chances of holding North Korea liable for crimes against humanity are slim.
North Korea could only be referred to the International Criminal Court by the U.N. Security Council, whose veto-wielding members China and Russia both voted the motion.
The U.N. Human Rights Council also extended the mandate of its North Korea Investigator Marzuki Darusman by one year and agreed to set up a field office to help him collect more evidence about the allegations, which include the claim that up to 120,000 people are being held in political prison camps. North Korea denies existence of the camps.
Members of the Security Council condemned Thursday North Korea’s ballistic missile launch this week as a violation of U.N. resolutions, and will continue discussions on an “appropriate response.”