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US supports high-level UN debate on NKorea rights

Friday - 3/14/2014, 7:21pm  ET

MATTHEW PENNINGTON
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States supports U.N. Security Council discussion of allegations North Korea committed crimes against humanity, a senior official said Friday. But he questioned whether the council had time to take up the issue.

A U.N. commission of inquiry issued a report last month that detailed systematic executions, torture, rape and mass starvation by North Korea's authoritarian government. The commission, led by a retired Australian judge, called for the Security Council to consider the report and refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court.

On Monday, the U.N.'s top rights body, based in Geneva, will consider its recommendations. The commission has also proposed empowering the U.N. to keep gathering evidence -- a much less contentious step. China, the North's only major ally, is almost certain to oppose a referral to the Security Council, where it wields a veto.

Speaking to reporters before departing for Geneva, Robert King, U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights issues, said the U.S. is still discussing the commission's recommendations internally and with other countries -- including the question of referral to the court. He said Japan and Europe have been drafting a resolution on North Korea that would be voted on by the 47-member council at the end of next week, but the text has not yet been finalized.

King said the question of a Security Council referral was one of balancing the "pros and cons," including whether the council had time to take up the issue, and if it did, what action it would take.

"We have been very supportive of the commission of inquiry. If it can be worked to have this debated, discussed in the Security Council, we certainly would be supportive of doing that," King said.

"I think it's a question of what's going on right now at the Security Council. It's fairly fully occupied trying to deal with issues like Ukraine and this kind of thing. Can we get it on the agenda and can we have a productive discussion? We are hopeful we can," he said.

Part of Washington's diplomatic calculations are likely to be the impact of such a step on its efforts to get China to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons that pose a potential threat to the U.S.

Beijing looks very dimly on the commission's report that also drew attention to its record of repatriating refugees back to North Korea.

North Korea has rejected the commission's work as a political provocation orchestrated by the U.S. It denies holding political prisoners -- let alone the report's estimate of 80,000 to 120,000.

The commission was mandated by the U.N. Human Rights Council. It investigated for one year, drawing on testimony from defectors and former gulag inmates. North Korea would not let the three commissioners enter the country.


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