WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. will support an international push at next month's U.N. Human Rights Council to initiate an inquiry into conditions in North Korea, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The world body's top human rights official, Navi Pillay, called last month for the creation of an international inquiry into "serious crimes" in North Korea that would be authorized by the U.N. but performed by independent experts. She called it one of the worst but least reported human rights situations in the world.
Japan has signaled support for some kind of inquiry for consideration by the Geneva-based council, and EU diplomats have been discussing such a move.
U.S. officials, speaking anonymously because the American position has not been announced, said Washington was favorably disposed toward some kind of inquiry but is waiting for nations to reach a consensus on details before formally declaring its support.
Activists complain that the authoritarian state's human rights record receives much less international attention than its nuclear and missile programs that are causing growing concern, particularly in the Asia-Pacific and the U.S. Washington is urging the U.N. Security Council to tighten sanctions on North Korea after it conducted Tuesday its third nuclear test in defiance of previous U.N. resolutions.
The Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly already have condemned North Korea's human rights record, but Pillay said stronger action was needed.
She said as many as 200,000 people were being held in North Korean political prison camps rife with torture, rape and slave labor, and that some of the abuses may amount to crimes against humanity.
North Korea denounced a recent U.N. report on human rights in the country that was conducted by a former attorney general of Indonesia as politically motivated and doing the bidding of the U.S., Japan and the E.U.
"The rights issues should be mentioned every time North Korea is discussed," said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "The decades of abuses and famine entail human suffering and risk at levels that are on par with the risk and suffering posed by the nuclear program."
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