The UN General Assembly has called for North Korea to be referred to the International Criminal Court over alleged crimes against humanity, in a landmark resolution adopted by a strong majority.
The non-binding measure was approved on Thursday by a vote of 116 to 20 with 53 abstentions.
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The vote followed a UN Commission of Inquiry report published in February detailing wide-ranging abuses in North Korea, including prison camps, systematic torture, starvation and killings.
A first vote on the resolution in a General Assembly committee in November had garnered the support of 111 countries, with 19 against and 55 abstentions.
The resolution asks the Security Council to refer North Korea to the ICC and to consider targeted sanctions against the Pyongyang leadership for the repression of its citizens.
The UN’s decision was hailed as a clear message about growing international concern over human rights violations in the isolated communist country.
“This marks an increase of five yes votes… and is a strong call from the international community to improve the human rights situation in the country,” said a statement from the European Union, which drafted the text with Japan.
On Monday, the Security Council will discuss North Korea in its first-ever meeting to touch on the rights situation in the country, but no decision is expected on ICC referral during those talks.
North Korea’s UN delegation dismissed the resolution and the commission of inquiry report.
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“My delegation totally rejects the resolution,” North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador An Myong Hun told the assembly. “It is a product of a political plot and confrontation.
“My delegation will not tolerate any attempt to use the human rights issues as a tool for overthrowing its social system,” he said.
He added that Pyongyang was ready for “dialogue and cooperation in the field of human rights,” but rejected the use of the issue as an instrument for regime change.
Cuba, which had led a campaign to scrap provisions on the ICC referral from the resolution, said the vote set a dangerous precedent by seeking to punish countries instead of developing cooperation.
China and Russia voted against the resolution, as did Belarus Cuba, Iran, Syria and Venezuela.
It is unlikely to lead to action in the ICC, which looks at serious abuses like genocide and other crimes against humanity, because China would likely use its veto power to block it.