A key UN committee approved a resolution condemning North Korea for diverting its resources to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles instead of helping its people, over half of whom need more food and improved medical care. The resolution sponsored by the European Union and Japan was adopted without a vote by the General Assembly’s human rights committee. It has 61 co-sponsors two more than last year and now goes to the 193-member assembly which is certain to adopt it in December. Estonia’s deputy UN ambassador Minna-Liina Lind, speaking on behalf of the EU, accused North Korea of committing serious human rights violations “in a widespread and systematic way,” including by its “inhumane conditions in detention camps,” restricted freedom of movement and limitations on the right to information.
Japan’s UN Ambassador Koro Bessho said that despite the needs of North Koreans, authorities “continue to divert their resources into pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles over the welfare of its people.” North Korea’s UN Ambassador Ja Song Nam told the committee before the vote that the government “categorically rejects” the resolution. He called it “a product of the political and military confrontation, plot and conspiracy of the United States and other hostile forces.” Ja accused the US and its allies of resorting to “unprecedented military threat and blackmail, sanctions and pressure” against North Korea, stressing that U.S. sanctions are attempting “to eliminate the rights to survival and development of our state.” He said that on the pretext of implementing sanctions, the delivery of medicine and medical equipment to North Korea has been cut, and most aid activities by international organisations that have worked in the country for over 20 years have been set back or reduced.
The resolution doesn’t address the impact of sanctions, only the impact of diverting resources to advance nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs on the humanitarian and human rights situation in North Korea. It “condemns the longstanding and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights” in the North. Following the imprisonment of American college student Otto Warmbier, who returned home in June with brain damage and died days later, the resolution strongly urges North Korea to provide non-citizens who are detained freedom of communication and access to consular officials. It noted the findings of the UN commission of inquiry on North Korea in 2014 that information it received provided reasonable grounds that crimes against humanity have been committed in the Asian nation.
The commission concluded that crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, persecution, deliberate starvation and disappearances were committed “pursuant to policies at the highest level of the state.” The resolution strongly urged North Korea’s government to end human rights violations, including immediately closing political prison camps and releasing all political prisoners. It also urged the government to allow all North Koreans freedom of movement and freedom to leave the country, including to seek asylum, and to ensure that those who are expelled or returned to the country are not punished.